orientation advisors

I had never heard a rape joke until I came to UT. Sitting in a crowd of freshmen in Hogg Auditorium, I watched orientation advisors caution against making an exchange commonly heard between students on campus: “How was your test?” “Man, I raped it!” “Awesome, bro!”

Three years later, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard or read rape jokes made by friends and peers, delivered in person or broadcast on Facebook. Aside from learning when people “rape” or “get raped” by their exams, I hear the verb when I least expect it. My friends and I were once sating our late-night munchies at Kerbey Lane when one proclaimed, “Man, y’all are raping that queso!”

There must be something about our campus culture that suggests rape isn’t really a big deal and that joking about it in public is okay.

It’s not.

Rape is an act of violence. Rape takes the beauty and intimacy of human sexual expression and twists it into assault. It’s something grotesque that happens when rapists rob others of the ability to say “no.” Can you imagine what it’d be like to lose all control and power over your own body? Rape doesn’t happen to difficult exams or Kerbey Queso; it happens to human beings.

And it happens all the time, to people of all genders, ages, and sexual orientations. According to the 2005 National Crime Victimization Survey from the Department of Justice, 66% of rape victims are attacked by people they know. Sadly, victims are told time and time again that rape is their fault. “They had way too much to drink.” “They wanted it!” “They said yes to this; I thought we could do that.” “Look at what they’re wearing!”

Sound familiar?

Many people think of rapists as strangers, but most incidents of rape happen between people who know each other. The often-repeated warnings to carry pepper spray or wear long skirts suggest a lack of understanding that most rapists aren’t strangers to their victims. The single best, most effective way to prevent rape is for rapists not to rape. Yes, you can reduce your chances of being a victim of sexual violence by drinking with people you trust, watching your drinks and by staying away from dark, unpopulated places. Ultimately, the people responsible for rape are rapists; those who force others into unwanted sexual contact. Despite this, we still describe what rape victims did wrong to increase their risk, therefore reducing the culpability of rapists, while congratulating our friends for “raping” their exams.

Students on this campus need to stop cracking jokes about rape. Rape is neither funny nor something to be proud of, and it’s never the victim’s fault.

Some argue that making light of rape somehow diminishes the horror of it. Aside from the fact that I have yet to hear a single actual rape victim reclaim the word, those who make rape jokes are often the same people who blame victims for their rape. Truth is, rape isn’t something we can end by joking about it. It’s quite the opposite: joking about rape can keep people from taking it seriously, which in turn leads to more rape and blaming the victim. We’re caught in a vicious cycle, and it needs to stop.

The next time you hear a rape joke – or make one yourself – give it some thought. In most situations, no one self-identifies as a victim of sexual violence. You have no idea who among your friends – or how many of them – could be victims. You also have no idea who could be a potential rapist and understand your joke as support for their actions.
Let me be clear: fighting against rape jokes isn’t about positioning angry feminists against evil men. Although most men aren’t rapists, the Department of Justice has found that 99% of rapists are men. Both men and women are victims. Fighting against rape jokes is about returning to a world – or at least, a campus – where sex is safe and consensual for everyone.

Eyberg is an English major from El Paso.