Why "Jokes" About Sexual Assault Need to Stop

We shouldn’t even need to elaborate on this one.

In light of recent events on campus, there has been a rise of students bashing Bryant on social media.  From snarky tweets at our President, to trashing administration and DPS on Yik Yak, students are channeling all of their hatred into a place that 3,600 of us call home for the majority of the year.  But the verbal attacks don’t end there - many students have found it within their discretion to humorize the situation by throwing around rape jokes, popularizing slapstick nicknames for the assailant, and shaming the victims.  

We will start by saying this: there is nothing funny about sexual violence.  Rape jokes are not jokes, they are ignorant, malicious, and typically sexist.  When you say something you think is “funny” you have no idea who you could be hurting.  

With every one out of four women and one of out every six men having experienced sexual assault in their lifetimes, there is a great chance that your audience may include someone who might be emotionally triggered by your snide remark.  More importantly, transforming a serious situation into a punchline perpetuates the idea that sexual assault is something to be swept under the rug or brushed off as customary misfortune.  First of all, it makes victims believe that their experiences are petty or embarrassing. It makes them assume that no one will listen and help emotionally or professionally.  It supports a society which humiliates anyone who shows vulnerability for the seeking of help.  Survivors feel enough psychological pain; becoming the butt of a sick joke will make them feel worse.

We get it; creating these nicknames are a way for people to be more comfortable talking about a serious issue in conversation.  But sexual assault is not supposed to be an easy topic.  It should make you uncomfortable, because it is, and that is why we need to be talking about it.  Referring to the Bryant perpetrator as the “Townhouse Toucher” takes away from what he really is: a criminal.  It diminishes the weight of the act and allows people to feel better about the jokes and ridicule.

Victim shaming is prevalent in nearly every facet of our society when discussing violence.  From murdering innocent women after rejecting prom invitations, to claiming someone “asked for it” due to a revealing outfit or the amount of alcohol the victim consumed, to misogynistic lyrics in popular songs like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” we are inundated with messages that tell us that survivors of abuse are the ones at fault.  In the case of Bryant, many students are calling out residents who do not lock their doors (which, by the way, is mostly irrelevant because many townhouses have broken locks.)  Yes, locking your door is advised- that’s a solid life choice no matter where you live, but unlocked doors don’t sexually assault. People do.

Beyond victim blaming/shaming, the media continues to glorify the guilty.  Too often, we hear stories of top universities who fail to investigate sexual violence cases because they would tarnish a student’s success, or the school’s reputation.  Letting offenders off the hook perpetuates a culture which says it is acceptable to harm others for personal gain.  For those who stick up for assailants because they “don’t deserve to have their future’s ruined,” maybe the individual should have thought about that before hand. Sexual assault is not a foolish teenage mistake, it is a disgusting crime.

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, we encourage everyone to practice kindness and think before they speak (or type).  We cannot change what has already happened, and we cannot stop every violent act that will occur in the future, but we can fix how we handle them socially.  

*For anyone who has been affected by sexual assault in any way and would like to seek help, please feel free to call the Advocacy Helpline (401-258-4209) and visit the Hochberg Women’s Center or Counseling Services at anytime.*