What To Say When Someone Jokes About Sexual Assault

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This year, there’s been a lot of talk about changing the culture: How do we teach powerful men not to sexually harass or assault the people they hold power over? How can we band together to stop sexual assault and harassment? How can we stop rape culture in its tracks? So-called “jokes” may seem like the most minor of issues related to rape culture — but the first thing we all need to learn is what to say when someone jokes about sexual assault.

These jokes have nothing to do with your sense of humor, and everything to do with normalizing the idea of sexual assault. When people make jokes about rape, about men overpowering women, even about women deserving it, and no one calls them out on it, it’s a signal that the joke’s acceptable.

Sure, a rape joke is a far cry from an actual incident of sexual violence, but think of the rape jokes as the foundation of the pyramid of rape culture. If you take away the foundation — if you create a situation where rape jokes are unacceptable, instead of a situation where victims feel forced to bite their tongues and bear it — then everything else will be a little bit less likely to take root and flourish.

You never know when you might be in a situation where someone makes a joke about assault, so you need to be ready. Here are a few ways to respond, so you can choose the one that you’re the most comfortable with.

Appeal To The Joker’s Empathy

Sexual assault is everywhere. So are its victims. Estimates say that one in four women and one in six men has been a victim of sexual assault, meaning that it’s highly likely that someone within earshot of the joke might have just felt an icy jolt of memory upon hearing it. Even if you were never a victim yourself — especially if you’ve never been a victim yourself, because it’ll be easier for you to speak out — if you’re comfortable doing so, you can privately tell the “joker” that they mat be speaking within earshot of a victim.

It’s not a matter of safe spaces and trigger warnings. It’s inconsiderate and unkind to make a joke that could have such a potentially negative effect on someone listening. Maybe the joker don’t know how pervasive rape is, and you can be the one to remind them.

Break The Joke Down

Everyone knows that a joke is never funny when you have to explain it. You can use this to your advantage when it comes to rape jokes by simply explaining the joke back to the person who made it.

“I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way,” you might say, “But you actually just made a joke about a woman being sexually assaulted. Your joke rests on the basis that it’s funny for men to physically overpower women. That’s a serious crime, and the repercussions of living through a sexual assault can last for the rest of a victim’s life.”

Just Use The Facts

The statistics surrounding rape and sexual assault are absolutely heart-wrenching. For example, another American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds on average — that’s one you could throw out at the joker, simply noting the frequency of the crime that he or she is referring to.

You could also note that sexual assault causes the highest incidence of severe distress in its victims, more than any other violent crime. Memorize a few number that you can use in response, because that’s also probably something that the joker hasn’t considered.

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