Rape Jokes and Freedom of Speech

Trigger warning this includes the author’s own experience as a rape victim. 

It’s far easier to give your thoughts on anything if you’re far removed from that situation. At the same time, it can be a fun exercise to execute empathy, but many of us hold fast to our place-holder beliefs until we are met face to face with any particular situation.

Freedom of expression is a beautiful thing that should, and always will be, protected. What happened at Charlie Hebdo should never occur again. I, like many other journalists, want to to take this time to discuss the murky gray of freedom of speech and how we can use it to open up healthy dialogue.

In lieu of the cancellation of (and subsequent release of) The Interview and the Charlie Hebdo attacks, I’ve watched as a lot of very different opinions about freedom of speech emerged.

But I want to talk about a very different form of freedom of expression and how it affects myself and others.

The rape joke.

As a survivor or rape, everyday I have to avoid trigger warnings and flashbacks, but this is not conducive to my life nor my abilities as a journalist. I cannot mute the whole world, nor would I like to.

So often times, the people who crack these jokes or the talking head congressional pundits who discuss and try to justify the assailant by saying it was the victim’s fault voice their opinion from a far-off removed place, while the rape victims must deal with an onslaught of shame, PTSD flashbacks and a complicated and wounding spectrum of emotions.

Too often our side is not heard. We become gaslit, condescended or dismissed. Some of us cannot speak at all, rendered mute by the offensive act agains us.

Common responses from the cheap seats include:

You deserved it!

It was your fault!

You made that up for attention! 

What were you wearing? 

We don’t often like to acknowledge that what we say has consequences, but everything and all we do has consequences. It’s the nature of the world. Sometimes these consequences include unjust acts of violence.

Unfortunately for myself and other victims of rape, that violence can all too commonly manifest itself as self-inflicted pain, either through thought, or in a much more harmful way.

I have no right to speak up for the Muslim community, I identify as atheist, and I have no right to speak up as a satirical cartoonist, but I do as an individual and victim of obscene violence against me, have the same right as you to speak up when something offends me.

I know rape jokes will continue to be made and that rape will continue to be committed. I know pundits will continue to justify my assailant and demonize me. Maybe one day our world will change and rape will disappear.

But for now, perhaps we can change this conversation on all sides and use our right for freedom of speech to open up a dialogue that includes both the victim’s and pundit’s perspective. That would be an amazing use of this incredible right we possess.