Warning: This article contains discussion of sexual assault. If you feel like you want to discuss any issues raised, please visit the Student Counselling Centre, call Nightline, or Support After Rape and Sexual Violence Leeds (SARSVL).
Rape jokes are so prevalent in our daily lives, from jokes about “dropping the soap” to comments about how you “raped that exam”. It is literally impossible to escape from rape jokes – just as it is impossible to escape the memory of being raped. This piece is not to tell you not to make rape jokes, but maybe it will incentivise you to think before you do.
The research says 1 in 5 women, and around 3% of men, will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, but statistics are so abstract. They’re also incredibly difficult to come by, what with social stigma, and arduous, intrusive process of reporting assault making people far less likely to be open about their experiences. Of course you are aware that people are raped, but you never imagine it’s people you know. But it is. I guarantee anyone reading this will know someone who has been raped, likely more than one. We are your friends, we are in your classes, and we are the people you are sleeping with. It’s not something I like to talk about, so it’s unlikely to be something you’d know about me. However, it is something I feel needs to be spoken about, I need to not be invisible and I need you to know that I am your friend, your colleague, your sibling, your mother.
Not a day goes past when I don’t remember being raped, it follows me in everything I do. Nothing has affected my life more than that day. Now, remember your lowest moment, imagine hearing people make jokes about it day in, day out. Listening to your friends make light of it, not knowing what you went through. Every time I hear someone make a joke about rape I am reminded of being lost, alone, and being raped by someone I had trusted. The fact that my no was unheard, the fact that my tears were ignored, the fact that I was told I was “asking for it”. I was 18 when I was raped and over three years down the line the memory of having to ride on the back of his bike to get home afterwards is no easier to deal with. The weeks spent waiting for results from AIDs test and the feeling of relief when everything came back negative and the weekly panic that haunted me in the following years are experiences I never want to relieve. It has taken years for me to be able to think of sex as something normal and okay and the flashbacks to my rape during sex have almost stopped – although sometimes I think they will never really end. It doesn’t only affect me, but the partners I have been with since have had to carry the burden of caring for and loving someone who will maybe always be a bit broken. I might be broken, but when you tell people you have been raped their perception of you changes, you are the victim and that look of pity is one of the worst in the world which is partly why I have requested this be published anonymously. I spent years blaming myself because society told me it was my fault, because rape jokes told me I deserved it. The real rape joke is the fact that this ever happened in the first place and the fact that statistically 3893 female students at Leeds University will experience sexual assault in their lifetime (according to the 1 in 5 statistic).
Most people who get assaulted do not make it public knowledge. It has been over three years since my rape (the date is etched in my memory forever, a sick anniversary I cannot forget), and over that time I have told 16 people, none of them members of my family. I know how difficult it is to open up about sexual assault, and so I know that many of you reading this will have never heard someone they know describe their rape first hand. But it’s important. The more we speak about it the faster we’ll chip away at the stigma surrounding it. I don’t feel ready to put my name to this article, but just publishing my story is a step in the right direction. It’s important to hear these stories, otherwise we only discuss rape in the abstract. I know this is unpleasant to read. But it’s so much worse to be reminded of it happening to you.
The man who raped me didn’t look like a rapist. He was a friend of a friend, someone I trusted. Someone who goes to university, has friends, plays sports, to all intents and purposes just like any man on campus. His friends probably don’t know what he did, they don’t know he had sex with a woman who kept saying no. The truth is just like I, as a survivor, could be your friend, so could a rapist. Every time he hears a rape joke, it makes what he did less of a big deal. It makes it something that can be laughed about, that you can jokingly threaten someone with. And no, it’s not the same as saying you want to ‘kill’ someone, because there is no shame, secrecy and denial attached to it.
The question is: would you make a rape joke in front of someone who survived rape? Because every single time you make a rape joke, you risk saying it in front of a rape victim, but also in front of a rapist. I don’t know about you, but personally I don’t want to make anyone relive the most traumatic event of their lives for the sake of a joke.