A girl, 17, crossed the corner of a small park in a quiet neighborhood on her way to visit a friend. She didn’t know where the man came from, but suddenly, she was not alone. He grabbed her, twisting her arm. He pulled her by her hair into an area behind a vacant house, where he knocked her down and slammed her head against the ground to stun her. Then he punched her in the face and raped her.
I know her well, so I know the aftermath: Years of blaming herself for not being more careful or strong enough physically to prevent it. Years of struggling to regain both her self-esteem and her sense of security. Years of trying not to let the assault prevent her from growing up and progressing through healthy dating relationships.
In what felt to her like the loneliest of circumstances, she was not alone.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey indicates that an average of 237,868 people over age 12, most of them females, are raped or sexually assaulted each year. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network says that means about one assault every two minutes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly one-fifth of women have been raped.
There was nothing funny about what happened to her, but the very crime that nearly destroyed her has somehow tickled Hollywood’s funny bone.
I’m not the first to notice that rape jokes have been plentiful on TV for a year or so, told to millions with a laugh track. New York Magazine compiled a video with clips of the various casual or facetious rape references. Dozens of blogs and articles and debates have centered around the use of rape as fodder for prime-time guffaws and whether anything about it is appropriate.
Because it’s not illegal to tell such jokes does not make it a good idea. Because you have the very important right to pretty much say what you want without being censored does not mean nothing should be filtered. That you’re a successful Hollywood writer doesn’t mean you should immortalize every thought that pops into your head, even if it’s ill-wrought.
Rape jokes hurt people who just wanted a little diversion via their TV sets. I can’t even figure out why, with so many shows competing for an audience, it seems like a good idea to offend the millions who have survived a sexual assault, plus their friends and family.
But rape jokes have not gone away, no matter how vehement the protest, how angry the response — which, truth be told, haven’t been all that vehement or angry. The jokes swirl still, floating largely on what looks like indifference. I don’t think that’s it.
I’ve been there. You are watching TV and something scripted but fairly appalling flies out of a character’s mouth. And because we’re all increasingly trained to be used to that, since little seems out of bounds on TV these days, the reaction is brief surprise, perhaps even distaste, then on to the next joke or show.
That means the writers on “Two Broke Girls,” “Family Guy,” “Up All Night,” “Two-and-a-Half Men,” “Modern Family” and other shows are free to keep coming up with “clever” rape references.
Forget that rape is dehumanizing and vicious and sometimes deadly.
The thing I find most odd about rape-as-humor is that Hollywood tries to present itself as edgy and clever and progressive. Rape jokes are none of those things. They line up with the worst of old-school thought. They harken back to the concept of people as the property of others. They paint rape as somehow trivial and victimless, perhaps even flattering.
I’m fighting back in Hollywood’s language. I’m going to change the channel and never go back.
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