Scroll through any Facebook homepage nowadays, and it seems one is inundated with various crude, inappropriate, albeit sometimes hilarious, hacked statuses and uploads. Think about Twitter, and the constant claim of someone hacking so and so, releasing a stream of inaccurate and insulting personal messages for the world to see. Except ‘hacking’ is, today, an inaccurate phrase itself.
‘Frape’ or ‘Twape’ would be more appropriate. There is more reference to rape as a tool for humour or embarrassment than there is to its actual horrifying reality. Out of nowhere there has been a radical change in the way we use sexuality, in film, in media, in our general mindsets. However, maybe it is time to stop and consider our progressive sense of humour as a step too far, when in truth our misuse of the word shows how we still remain so ignorant about the terror of rape and sexual abuse.
Indeed, the word ‘rape’ has been so trivialised by our generation that it is now intertwined within our general conversation. A student at the University of York, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “It’s not that I don’t find the common use of the word disrespectful, it’s just that I don’t really think about anymore. The other day my housemate said if I didn’t come and do the washing up she would send another friend in to rape me. OK, so that sounds weird out of context, but at the time I just laughed.”
What is startling is how standard the use of this word has become. Whether it is used to insult, vividly describe or humiliate, it has seeped into normality with no pause to consider its far from normal presence within society today. How did we get there? How did we get from not talking about rape, to talking about it in such a casual and abrasive way?
Moreover, humour has seemingly become the excuse that warrants this change in attitude. It is quite terrifying to ask, but at what point did rape become funny? Something many people do not talk about when being hacked on Facebook, is the fact that one in five women will be raped in their lifetime. Something that is not mentioned often, is how in the ten minutes it takes to do the washing up, approximately two women have been raped in the US alone. Five year old Lama Al Ghamdi being raped, tortured and murdered by her father Fayhan Al Ghamdi in Saudi Arabia, or eighteen year old Oksana Makar from Ukraine who was raped and then set on fire by her attackers are not common subjects in casual, friendly conversations- but the word which identifies what they went through is. Facts and figures around may not detract from the severity of the crimes, but it definitely proves that something is very wrong about our sense of humour.
Parallel to our generalisation of rape, it has evidently become a prominent fixture and fear of our day to day lives, without us even realising it. An example of this is the way people often associate particular areas or streets with the name “Rape Alley”, to convey a fear of being alone there at a certain time for risk of being attacked. It is an overwhelming and horrible thought: that being sexually assaulted is so common and accepted, that parts of the town that are believed to be unsafe are being physically identified by that crime.
As part of the ongoing ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign, promoting the challenges and atrocities facing women globally, Bob Hughes, YUSU Welfare Officer, posted a picture of himself on Facebook holding a sign saying: “I am rising because when someone mentions ‘Rape Alley’ here, people ask: which one?” This caused a controversial debate online, as people believed using the phrase “Rape Alley” simply perpetuated the fear itself. Hughes commented exclusively for Vision, saying: “I think rape and rape culture are far too often trivialised – from it being treated as a punchline in a joke, or a way of marketing products, rape and sexual violence are serious and emotionally sensitive subjects that should not be dismissed as merely ‘banter’. The fact that we can even refer to at least two walkways in and around our campus as ‘Rape Alley’ I think sets a worrying tone, regardless of the actual threat posed. York, compared to many other cities, is very safe, but I still find the naming problematic.”
What was once limited to a banter-filled ‘frape’ is now a reflection of this country’s increasing ‘LAD culture’. Whether it is through seeing images of men pretending to rape women on nights out, or seeing celebrities such as Rihanna sing openly about bondage and S&M, our response to sexual violence has become undeniably more relaxed. This new wave attitude to the way we talk about rape and sex generally may seem harmless or amusing, but the effects of this can be huge and long lasting on generations to come. This year, the UK government released statistics showing that there had been a seven percent increase in sexual violence between the years 2009 and 2012, proving that such an open approach to this issue has not helped the thousands of people who are suffering daily.
However, today also marks a new wave in campaigns which are actively trying to stop this view of rape being generalised and seen as a casual remark. Last term the University of York was swept away by the ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign that spread through campus with events such as ‘V-Day’ and a sell-out performance of The Vagina Monologues put on by Dramasoc. Men and women across the University raised wide awareness of the mistreatment of women across the world, as well as the UK, specifically targeting the ‘rape myth’ and forcing people to consider the wider, disturbing effects it can have. Furthermore, welfare officers in universities all over the UK are keen to change young people’s attitudes with operations such as ‘Catcalling is Not a Compliment’, urging students to understand that what can be considered as a bit of fun, is actually intrusive and destructive.
It is becoming increasingly more difficult to disassociate comedy with the idea of rape, as many celebrities and comedians have taken to making regular ‘joking’ remarks publicly. Recently, famous comedian Daniel Tosh made the following joke at one of his stand up performances: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” Tosh consequently apologises for his remark on Twitter. Seeing celebrities take such a casual attitude to rape has undoubtedly led to an increased use of the word generally. In response to Tosh’s remark, Independent journalist Nicky Clark stated: “His whole joke was based on the premise of probably the most damaging myth about rape there is. ‘She said no but she meant yes.’ If you’re a rapist looking for celebrity endorsement, you might imagine that’s the place.”
It seems perhaps that this is the biggest danger; that with more mentions of rape within a comedic or exaggerative environment, our understanding of the act has become equally as comedic and distorted. Myths and loopholes have come into existence, often providing excuses for people looking to justify rape, as stated by Clark.
It may be seen as uncool, but there is a need for change, for a shift in how people view rape and its seriousness. There is a need for people to stop and say, “rape is NOT a laughing matter.” For the amount of jokes or casual remarks that are made about rape or sexual remarks, women and men across the world are continuing to suffer constantly.
As times change, our view of sexuality has also changed, in many ways for the better. However, our misuse and casual response to such a detrimental act is likely to lead in a huge step backwards for not only feminism and human rights, but outlooks on the gravity of rape universally. Words are powerful, and are often the limiting factor in how we deal with social issues in this country. Just because we are getting used to seeing rape in films or through the media should not allow us to adopt such a general and sweeping attitude, as it still haunts and affects so many people.