Sexual Assault: What’s So Funny?

By Lauren Redding

As president of the University of Maryland’s Feminists for Sexual Health club and a soon-to-be campus sexual assault prevention peer educator, my senior year is going to be dominated by one question: What can I do to stop sexual assault on campus?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot this summer and I’ve come to at least one conclusion — for too many people, rape is still just the punch line of a joke.

We saw it this summer with Comedy Central star Daniel Tosh when, during a performance, he made a joke about sexual assault. When an audience member spoke up that rape is never funny, he responded with: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like five guys right now? Like right now?”

The backlash against Tosh wasn’t surprising. Here’s what was: the droves of professional comedians who supported him and his “joke.” Several took to Twitter, with comments ranging from “If you get easily offended then go kill yourself,” to “That heckler was asking for it.” Comedian Doug Stanhope used the hashtag #FuckThatPig, saying “If you ever apologize to a heckler again I will rape you.”

It got me thinking about the cavalier response to sexual assaults, especially on college campuses. The word rape is used casually as a metaphor all the time, like, “Dude, he just got raped all over the football field.” But even more than that, there seems to be this wide-spread notion that nobody says out loud but every student is supposed to abide to: This is college. Shit happens. Deal with it.

Here’s one example: I organized the campus’ first SlutWalk last spring. More than 300 people came. Many carried signs or dressed provocatively and, together, we chanted, “Whatever we do, where ever we go, yes means yes and no means no!”

University of Maryland SlutWalk – photo by Lauren Redding

I was overwhelmed by the support I got for SlutWalk, but even more overwhelmed by the negative reactions. We were there with a positive and serious message. Almost immediately, several on-lookers tried to turn it into a joke.

I was told several times to “Stay in the kitchen, you can’t get raped there,” or “Stop dressing like a whore and maybe you won’t get raped,” or quite simply, “Suck my dick.”

Ultimately, I think it’s a defense mechanism. Talking about sexual assault makes people uncomfortable. Most try to ignore it and, when it’s marching right in front of their face, it’s just easier to make a joke.

So how do we fight it? I have a few ideas I plan to try out this semester. But I think it’s one of the first things that needs to be addressed on college campuses in our fight to end sexual assault. Do you have any suggestions? Feel free to tweet at me @laurred.

In the mean time, I’ll keep preparing for the upcoming year. This is too serious to joke about.

Because, really, it’s all fun and games until someone actually gets raped.

By Lauren Redding

Lauren Redding is a former editor in chief of The Diamondback and former CARE to Stop Violence peer educator. She can be reached at [email protected] and @Lauren_Redding on Twitter.

1 comment

  1. I would’ve liked to see examples of comedians who spoke out against Tosh so that readers can laugh with people who don’t condone rape jokes.

    I tweeted you… but I wanted to say more completely that I met someone who is a professional storyteller and visits campuses and groups all over to tell her story about assault to help people be moved more easily in the form of storytelling. I need to look up her site… Anyway, she even visited the frat of the boy who raped her on their request because of a new sexual assault prevention training. They were actually terrified of her at first because they didn’t want to be considered that rapey frat. A lot of rape apologists have this pattern of not wanting to be seen as monsters because there’s still this idea that only scary sociopaths hiding in the bushes rape. Her story inspired them, and they loved her at the end because they learned that they don’t have to be that rapey frat, they can be that frat that ensures it won’t happen again by checking for consent and intervening if it seems like an assault might happen. It lets them be heroes again, I suppose. She ended up not publicizing the name of the frat not only on their request but because she found that it would be distracting, and people needed to know that not just this specific frat but all frats and everyone should care about assault.

    I also think people can learn that considering the frequency of assault, 1 out of 4 people in the room could possibly be triggered by a rape joke and won’t speak up about it for fear of backlash, and that has caused some of my friends to work harder to avoid it. Others admittedly remain stubborn, but they’re a minority that are completely unwilling to check the consequences of their words.

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