“Rape! That’s a rape!”
Anyone who’s seen the 2011 instant-classic Horrible Bosses was likely laughing as Charlie Day’s character looked on with horror at the photos of what Julia (Jennifer Aniston) had done to him while he was unconscious during a dental procedure. This scene is just one of the many examples of sexual violence as portrayed in the entertainment industry.
Horrible Bosses received positive reviews and earned a cool $2.9 million at box offices across the globe. Engaging in jokes about sexual harassment is nothing new for Day — his TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia prides itself on being politically incorrect. But as you’re laughing at the dentist harassing her assistant, you can’t help to think in the back of your mind that this wouldn’t be funny if the pair’s genders were switched, which begs the question: why is rape could be considered comical at all?
Yesterday, fellow correspondent Holly Pablo wrote an article on April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month and she provided great tips on how college students can keep themselves safe both on and off campus.
In her article, Pablo also writes that colleges across the nation are holding various campus events this month to raise awareness about preventing sexual assault. At UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, the student health center offers three trainings at no cost to students that teach members of the campus community about how to handle and prevent sexual violence. HAVEN, a joint venture between UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University, trains students to provide free and confidential counseling for victims of sexual assault. Safe Zone creates a network of allies for LGBTQIA students, and a number of other college campuses offer Safe Zone programs as well. One Act is a new initiative at UNC-Chapel Hill where students discuss potential scenarios in which they can act to prevent sexual violence from occurring.
Additionally, Cosmopolitan magazine has instituted a program called Cosmo Fights Campus Rape, a partnership with the nonprofit organization Students Active for Ending Rape. The program works with students across the nation to update their school’s sexual violence policies.
No one would argue that sexual assault is a positive occurrence, so why are jokes about it so prevalent in modern culture?
For some people, creating jokes about sexual violence defies gender stereotypes, as in Horrible Bosses, when a male character is harassed by a female. Similarly, with the crop of female-led sitcoms this season has come a revival of rape-centric jokes told by female characters to suggest empowerment in shows like 2 Broke Girls and Whitney.
But a resurgence of jokes about sexual assault is not as progressive as these writers may believe — and for victims of sexual violence, hearing these jokes can be traumatizing.
Melissa Golding, a member of Project Dinah, a UNC-Chapel Hill student organization devoted to student empowerment and violence prevention, has completed both HAVEN and One Act trainings and says that when sexual violence is taken lightly, it can have a negative effect on those who have suffered from sexual abuse.
“When people watch shows in which sexual violence is used for comedic effect, it perpetuates an attitude that if something is uncomfortable to talk about, it can be dismissed through humor,” Golding says.
“But an even worse effect of these depictions of rape is that they can trigger survivors. To see rape and other forms of sexual abuse portrayed so lightheartedly can impact people who are trying to heal and move past those feelings of shame, guilt, and self-hatred that might have arisen from their experiences.”
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