Trigger Warning for Rape and Sexual Assault
It was a casual joke, said to a friend of mine after she mentioned that she was going to a club: “Don’t get raped!” While this comment may have been said with good intentions, it enraged me. I am sick and tired of people casually dropping this phrase for cheap laughs. I’ve often wondered why the fact that rape jokes aren’t funny needs to be explained, but since this is something that has happened time and time again, I’ve made it my personal mission to find a bigger platform from which I can preach this topic.
Let’s begin by dissecting the phrase. “Don’t get raped.” I have to wonder if the speaker fails at comprehending the nuances of the English language, or more insidiously, if they just don’t care what the use of ‘get’ implies. In this context, the use of ‘get’ makes it appear as if the victim intends to be attacked, that they were planning on this tragedy befalling them. In the common connotation, ‘get’ is used to show purpose and intent, two things which never, ever apply to the victims of rape. The person you’re casually joking about has no intention of being assaulted. They are not, as you have thoughtlessly implied, going out for an evening of fun with an ulterior motive of looking to pick up a horrific attack and personal trauma. No matter how unintentional, causality should never be pinned on the victim. Rape is a crime, and an affront to the safety and sanctity of an individual. It is always the sole fault of the rapist. Minimizing that fact through cheap jokes does real harm to our cultural understanding of that, not to mention how insulting it is to the victims.
The second part if this joke is the subject of rape. Statistics indicate that one in five women in the United States is raped in their lifetime and that one of four is sexually assaulted. Out of your family members, your friends, your classmates or even the people that could be bystanders to your conversation, the odds are good that at least one of them is struggling with this type of trauma. Those are women whom you know, laugh with, eat and spend time with. For those of you who are unmoved by statistics, I hope that you understand that when the attack ends, the trauma lingers on for years afterwards. This trauma can affect their relationships, workplace performances, sleep habits, eating habits, not to mention the way that they view themselves.
Rape is not only a physical trauma, but also a mental one. Imagine feeling small, powerless, humiliated in every way possible, and then that sick feeling permeate the rest of your life… even moments that would otherwise be carefree. Those emotions are what you invoke when a rape joke is told. Those are the emotions that you are mocking.
The phrase “don’t get raped” is inconsiderate and lacking in even the most basic level of empathy. It is frequently and casually said anytime that a woman says she’s going out. And then people laugh. Really, what gets me most heated is that we acknowledge the phrase as a joke through our laughter. “Oh, I’m going out to a dance club tonight, it should be a lot of fun!” “Yeah, don’t get raped!” And just like that, a potential attack becomes something that is thoughtlessly laughed at.
And to that I say no. No, this isn’t funny. No, this phrase isn’t a joke. No, this isn’t you trying to be a “good friend” or trying to tell her to be safe. Because if you genuinely meant that, you would be shocked and horrified when people laughed and you would tell them to stop. This is nothing more than you trivializing a real, horrible thing that happens to 20 percent of women in the United States.
I’m all in favor of concern, of expressing worry for the safety of your friends. But if that’s what you mean, say that. There are a million phrases that get your point across: “text me when you get there and when you get home!” “Be sure to take a buddy!” Even something as simple as “Be careful” is heartfelt and more effective at expressing your worry than an offensive joke would ever be. Rape survivors deserve so much more than your cheap minimization. The sheer volume of courage that it takes for those who are assaulted to get out of bed, to seek help, to even go back out into public, is beyond measure and reproach. It is not something that should be trivialized and jokingly thrown around.
The phrase “don’t get raped” isn’t funny, it isn’t appropriate and it isn’t helpful to anyone. If you truly care about your friends and their wellbeing, pick a different phrase. And to all the women who have over heard these comments, or had to bite their tongues while hearing their pain mocked, there is so much that I want to say to you. But what I mostly want you to know is you are brave, you are strong and there are people, some of whom you don’t even know, that realize and care about the pain that you are going through.