Author’s note: This article discusses sexual violence and rape.
When I was raped, the first thing I did after tearfully confessing the complete violation of my boundaries to a couple of close friends was make jokes about it.
They weren’t crude jokes; just sort of dark and morbid. I didn’t make them often, and I only made them around those who knew about my rape, but I, without a doubt, did use humor as a coping mechanism, as I have with most difficulties in my life.
Still, I cringed whenever my peers or even well known comedians made their own rape jokes — typically jokes that made the victim the laughingstock, and glorified the perpetrator. I understand that humor is allowed to push boundaries, and that some good jokes can cause discomfort and controversy, but humor at the expense of a rape victim just never got a laugh out of me.
Friends of mine who had also been raped understood; we could make darkly funny jokes to one another about our assaults, and all of us would laugh at our shared trauma. Meanwhile, we could also give a shared stink-eye to those that “hilariously” put down rape survivors, and try to inform them of their misplaced disapproval.
It wasn’t until after I was raped that I realized just how common rape jokes are, not just in vulgar television shows, but also in normal conversation. I heard people laughingly warn scantily clad girls, “Try not to get raped tonight!” and saw others roll their eyes at obviously intoxicated girls and whisper through giggles, “She should be more careful if she doesn’t want…you know what to happen.” To me, and to many other rape victims, the only rape jokes worth laughing at are those that are either spoken by victims, or those that are made to humiliate and discourage rapists. None of the jokes I commonly heard matched these criteria.
That is why when I read this article about female comedian Heather Jordan Ross and her “Rape is Real and Everywhere” comedy show, I was practically giddy with excitement. The show is completely made up of female rape survivors cracking jokes about their attacks. Finally, I had found comedians that understood the difference between laughing at rape, and laughing along with someone who was using comedy as a healing tool.
I won’t say that rape jokes helped me get over being raped (because I’m definitely not over it), but I will say that they helped me realize I didn’t have to be bound to the misery being raped caused me. For me, humor was never a way to avoid the fact that I had been assaulted. In fact, making rape jokes was what taught me I could make light of my attack, and at the same time accept the fact that it had happened and be aware of how deeply it affected me. Rape jokes aren’t every survivor’s preferred way of coping, but for me, they’ve been a key tool to both acceptance and recovery.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.