Why do we still joke about rape?
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Students at Miami University have roused a wave of outcry after posting a flyer entitled 'Ten Ways To Get Away With Rape' in the toilets of a freshman dormitory. What is most disturbing about the flyer, despite its risible attempts at satire, is that it is simply one of the cacophony of insensitivite voices raised in the debate about rape. The flyer provides handy tips to the budding rapist such as: “If a woman's window is unlocked sneak in and rape her to teach her not to do it again” and "RAPE, RAPE, RAPE, it's college boys live it up!!!" In spite of the hyperbolic and juvenile nature of the comments, they are sadly not incongruous. Last year an email from an American fraternity, which offered men advice on how to pursue women, depersonalising them to the status of “targets” rather than “people”, went viral. Such comments disregard the severity of what are currently endemic levels of sexual assault; it is estimated that at college in America one in four women will be the victim of attempted or completed rape during her degree. Yet rape is often the subject of jokes and its semantic power is ever-minimised by the flippant use of the term in everyday speech: "I just got raped by that exam!’ Our notions of rape have been diluted and disempowered, which has in turn further isolated and obscured its victims from view. These misplaced attempts at humour do not mock outdated conceptions but propagate them. The careless handling of rape in wider society extends far and wide, lest we forget US Congressman Todd Akin’s frightening supposition that in an act of “legitimate rape” a woman cannot become pregnant, or Whoopi Golberg’s fervent denial that Roman Polanski ever committed “rape-rape.” We should not ignore and in our very passivity assist in the recycling of such small-minded discourse, and neither should we dismiss this flyer with a permissive ‘boys-will-be-boys’ approach. Such excuses minimise the damage caused and do men a disservice in assuming their immaturity in these matters. We must examine and address the ignorance that surrounds our understanding of rape, in order to best face the victims left disregarded behind it.