Why is the word 'rape' no longer offensive?

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Nathan Dampf
  • 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs

It used to be that no one made jokes or even referenced the word "rape." Now, you can't watch a comedy without someone screaming "rape" in the middle of a comical fight scene or listening to a fellow Airman about how his last CDC exam or PT test "raped" him.

I served as an Airman leader at my technical training school. While there, we had a sexual assault incident between two Airmen. The dormitory went on lockdown until the commander and investigators could wrap their minds around it. Days later at an all-call, one of my fellow Airmen asked, "So does this mean the 'SARC-me-Sunday' jokes are over?"

I casually - but firmly - replied, "Yes. I think it does."

What I didn't explain at the time is how "SARC-me-Sundays," always offended me.  When I was in high school, a close friend of mine was sexually assaulted. Just hearing the word made me think of her and what she went through. I hated hearing it.

But, it doesn't seem to bother other people. Why?  Maybe it's because we live in a "rape culture" in America.

A "rape culture" is defined as one that ignores, normalizes, trivializes, or jokes about the act and blames the victim. I believe the reason it doesn't offend anybody anymore is because we do live in a "rape culture." And, here are four reasons why:

So-called "jokes" about rape

Rape "jokes" are becoming far too common. Recently I watched "A Million Ways to Die in the West." It's funny at times, but actors in the film use the word rape several times throughout the movie, in some rather disturbing ways. One such instance had comedian Bill Maher delivering stand-up comedy in a bar. He ended his routine with a dark twist on the "thank you and don't forget to tip your waitress" line, with this: "thank you and don't forget to rape your waitress."

It's not just the movies either. Jokes about rape are now more common in social media. Facebook had a battle in 2013 where more than 80 human rights groups called for the removal of pages with titles like the "Kill a Slut Competition" and "Don't Wrap It and Tap It - Tape Her and Rape Her," just to name two.

Moreover, not only do jokes trivialize the act, they may also make it harder for males who may have been sexually assaulted. Most of the time, perpetrators of such jokes are male. If a male survivor is visiting with friends and one of them comments about how his car wreck "raped" his new paint job, they've just re-traumatized their friend, and shown that they feel rape is not an issue men experience.

Victim Blaming

Secondly, more often than not, it is the survivor's credibility that comes into question, instead of the accused perpetrator's. We start by asking, "well, why was she by herself at night?" or "what was she wearing?" Some go as far as asking male victims, "you're a dude. you should have liked it," instead of asking rapists, "why would you do that?"

Further adding to victim blaming is assertions of rampant false reports - which the facts on rape simply don't bear out. Based on research, false reports of rape are between two and eight percent of all reports - which is exactly the same rate of false reports for all other types of crimes.

A One-Sided Upbringing

With our apparent "rape culture," we are raising a generation of girls to be suspicious and scared of every street alley or bar in America. We teach girls as they grow older to not leave drinks alone or to never go anywhere without a friend. This is prudent - but it's also one-sided, because we are not having corresponding conversations with boys, who are statistically the overwhelming perpetrators of sexual assaults against women.

I'd like to ask the parents of young men: when is the last time you instructed them to stop while in the heat of the moment in order to ask for consent? Did you instruct them they need a "yes" to move forward? Or, when is the last time you talked with your son about respecting a girl's virginity, and told him it is not a prize? There are important lessons that I have to teach my two young daughters. But I'm nervous that their future boyfriends are not taught what they need to know to respect and protect the basic human rights of my girls - and all women.

The reason this is important is because the culture is no longer one of the creepy man behind the bushes. According to the U.S. Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Study, roughly 66 percent of rape cases happen between two individuals who know each other. Of that number, 38 percent are friends or acquaintances, and 28 percent are intimate partners.

So, rather than raise girls to be cautious, shouldn't we raise future generations - men and women alike --to fully recognize and honor an individual's right to consent?

The Power Game

Lastly, there are some in the media who say rape is about violence and brutality. One columnist wrote that we don't live in a "rape culture," because the statistics on rape are inflated to include girls who were drunk, drugged or pressured to have sex - he didn't count these acts as "rape."

That argument is flawed because violence is not the underlying issue. It is power. When a girl or guy cannot consent due to alcohol or being drugged, there may be no violence, but there is no power for her or him to give consent. Similarly, if a husband threatens his wife with taking the children in a divorce in order to get what he wants in the bedroom, he's taking away her power in the decision.

Our culture - and this includes some of us in the military - is taking away the power from rape survivors when we make "jokes" about it or when we educate teen females to be suspicious of every man she meets. And, we are taking away power when we question a victim's credibility.

So, yes, regrettably, we certainly do live in a "rape culture." But we each can improve this; here are some ways you can help change it:

· Try recognizing your own biases

· Don't laugh at rape "jokes." Have conversations with individuals who do make jokes, and explain it's no laughing matter

· Engage young men who are going to begin dating. Educate them on dating violence and what consent looks like in a sexual relationship

· Get involved in local efforts to educate and to change our culture

Lastly, if you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence / assault, know that the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) office is here to support you.  You can reach a trained victim advocate 24/7 on the Whiteman Air Force Base SAPR confidential hotline at 660-687-7272.  If you're not local to the Whiteman Air Force Base area, these advocates can assist you in finding an advocate in your community.