By Victoria Calderon
In June, I snagged tickets to see one of my favorite funny late night hosts, Conan O’Brien, tape his show in Chicago.
As I piled into the Chicago Theater with the rest of the audience and waited patiently for the show to begin, an opener came out on stage to welcome the theater and explain the show’s logistics. As an audience member (or several) made a moan of laughter or disapproval at one of the man’s jokes, the opener replied (in so many words), “Why does it sound like you’re being raped?”
The crowd erupted in laughter just like they had after every joke he told. I’d been laughing and clapping along with the crowd until that moment. I stopped my hands mid-clap and stared at my friend sitting next to me.
“Why is that funny?” I asked out loud.
In what world is the sound of an individual crying out during a sexual assault ever a source of laughter?
It is instances like this that foster an environment where topics like rape aren’t given the respect or consideration they deserve. I firmly believe that one of the easiest (and often the most beneficial) acts people can take to correct our culture is to consider how they talk about rape. I would be overjoyed to see the rest of the world help plan a Take Back the Night event or protest legislation that hinders equality for everyone, but if they can simply promise to stop making jokes about rape, I swear we’ll have made a little headway.
The way we see and talk about rape is where real sexual assault prevention begins. The discussion of prevention usually begins with “Don’t walk home alone!” but what we should be talking about instead is how to change our rape culture. The following are four things that will take you a step in the right direction:
1. Do not tolerate or participate in “jokes” about sexual assault. Example, “I totally raped that brutal exam today.” These are (I promise) never funny. If we are to believe that almost one in four college women are sexually assaulted, can you imagine the likelihood that one of them will hear a comment like that and possibly be forced to remember one of the worst moments of their lives? They don’t need another reminder (especially one from you). Joking about rape trivializes the issue, making a very important issue something to laugh about.
2. Communicate. I can’t promise this will be as easy, but it is the most important rule in sexual assault prevention. Remember, an enthusiastic, “Yes!” is real consent. Also, don’t be afraid to communicate to your peers why it is wrong to participate in behaviors listed in item number one.
3. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Thus, promoting any attitudes that say different, like implying that an individual would not have been sexually assaulted had they not walked home alone is surely nothing short of victim blaming.
4. Be an active ally. Let’s aim to build people up and never take the opportunity to tear them down (refer to item number three). Challenge behaviors and attitudes that promote sexual violence and reinforce gender stereotypes.
I know that changing the rape culture is far from easy, but it is the right step to take if we are ever going to call ourselves advocates for victims of rape. Regardless, what kinds of things worth the fight are simple? The world will never get better if people only choose to do what’s easy.
Let’s build people up. Speak out against injustices. Think before we speak. Do the right thing. Fight the good fight.