The Trouble With Rape Jokes And 3 Tips for Surviving Them

(Trigger Warning: Rape jokes, Rape culture)

I don’t know about you, but I hear rape jokes all the fucking time. And if you watch TV or listen to the radio or ever leave your house, I bet you do too.

Every time I hear a rape joke, a little piece of my heart chips off.

I know, I know. Dramatic much? But it’s true.

I have made my young career out of supporting women who have been physically and sexually abused.

I have seen the strength and resilience of these women. I have seen how hard they have worked to survive their traumas.

And all I ever want to do is lift them up in their survival.

There are not words for the work it takes to survive a sexual assault.

There are not words for how contemptible it is to make jokes about violence – violence that ruins and ends people’s lives.

And it enrages me to hear other people make jokes that belittle and demean these experiences of survival.

What a privileged position one must be in to make these types of jokes.

But it happens all the time, and we can’t just blame the individuals who make these jokes, even though that would be easiest.

We have to understand the cultural narrative around sexual violence as being insignificant and normalized. We have to understand the ways we contribute to rape culture, which allows these jokes to exist.

And while we absolutely need to critically examine the cultural context, we also have to reach out specifically to the people who perpetuate rape culture by making jokes about sexual violence.

Rape Jokes Are Just Not Funny. They’re Traumatizing.

Here is what I want to say to people who make jokes about rape, who compare capitalism to rape, who compare a tough exam to a sexual assault, who think that rape is a way to jokingly compliment someone.

Every time those words leave your mouth, a person in your company wonders if they can trust you.

This could be your girlfriend, your sister, a guy on your football team, your guitar teacher, the person sitting next to you on the bus.

It could be anyone, because anyone can be sexually assaulted.

The point is this – there is no safe space to make a rape joke. You run the risk of insulting, re-traumatizing, and deeply hurting someone, regardless of the company you keep.

There are no safe spaces to make a rape joke, and there is no way to maintain a safe space when a rape joke is made.

It can be incredibly triggering for a survivor to hear a rape joke.

One of the hallmarks of trauma is constant mental intrusion. It’s like a video recording of the traumatic event is playing at all times. There is an unrelenting crisis in regulating that video.

So, knowing that, imagine this: You’re a survivor of sexual violence. Maybe you were raped once, maybe you were raped every day for years (although the symptoms present differently).

You’re sitting with friends, drinking coffee or smoking a cigarette or whatever it is that you and your friends do.

A person you’re with makes a joke about rape, and all of a sudden you’re back in the moment of your assault.

And think: you’re with your friends and you finally let yourself feel safe, you finally let yourself laugh, you finally found a way to pause that video, but then wam!

Someone makes a rape joke and you’re back in the video loop again.

And this time it will take longer to stop because THIS IS WHAT YOU GET FOR LOOKING AWAY, your mind tells you.

Or imagine that you are in the middle of that traumatic video that just won’t stop playing.

You’re only half present with your friends. You’re barely listening to anything because attachment and intimacy are far more difficult after an assault.

But then you hear the word “rape” and see other people laughing and you know that you are not safe at that table because the people you care about don’t take your pain seriously. They don’t value your truth.

And so it has been confirmed. You are as alone as you feel.

That’s a pretty fucked up thing to do to someone who you care about, don’t you think, funny guy?

It is not worth the joke. The trauma that you may cause someone by releasing the pause button is not worth the moment of satisfaction that your rape joke brings you.

It is just not worth it.

And my guess is that you will feel the same way when you really think about it.

What To Do If Someone Tells You A Rape Joke

For the people who hear rape jokes and also feel a piece of their heart chip off, remember this.

You are not alone.

Remember all of the outrage after the Tosh catastrophe?

That is but one piece of evidence supporting the reality that most of the humans in this world are decent and stand in solidarity against “jokes” that retraumatize survivors and exist to keep women down.

Here are three things that you can do to survive hearing a rape joke:

1. Remember that you are not alone.

See above. A lot of people believe that rape jokes are bad. These people are smart and strong, just like you.

2. If you feel safe, say something.

Even though I usually want to yell expletives, I do my best to stay calm when I challenge people on their rape jokes. I generally don’t engage with people who are incredibly resistant to growth.

But if I think it won’t be a huge waste of my time, I try to say something. I have said all of these things:

  • “You know, a lot of people who I love have been raped. That joke isn’t funny to me.”
  • “It’s really hard for me to hear jokes about violence. Can you not say that anymore?”
  • “One in three women been assaulted. Can you be more considerate when you tell jokes? There’s a really good chance that you’re saying that in front of a survivor.”
  • “What a lazy joke. You’re better than that.”

3. Take good self care

We can’t say it enough here on Everyday Feminism: Self care is key to survival!

If a joke is triggering for you, use your coping skills to get through the moment.

Take a deep breath, count to 100, create a calming image in your mind, get up and walk away.

Do whatever you need to do to keep yourself emotionally safe, and don’t apologize to anyone for it.

You have a right to safety.

There’s no way around it. Jokes about rape are wildly inappropriate and downright cruel.

We all have the right to exist in the world without being triggered by another person’s insensitive and offensive jokes.

Let’s all hold each other accountable in understanding that rape jokes are wrong and in supporting the people who get stuck hearing them.

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Sarah is a Contributing Writer of Everyday Feminism and a graduate student in Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is focusing on clinical work with survivors of trauma. Sarah works at a domestic violence agency as a therapist intern, and she also volunteers as an abortion and pregnancy loss doula. Before moving to Philadelphia, Sarah worked for a suicide and rape crisis hotline, and was an emergency room advocate for survivors of sexual assault. In her free time, Sarah likes to talk endlessly about her dog and cat. Follow her Twitter@xsogden.