I am angry this week. Friday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and this weekend sees thousands of activists involved in many different events campaigning and raising awareness of the problem of violence against women to kick off the 16 Days of Action on Violence Against Women; and recent news reports on horrendous statistics concerning rape in Northern Ireland (see below) have left many of us in an aftermath of shock. Meanwhile, terms and jokes belittling the seriousness and trauma of rape have become part of the furniture of our conversations and my ears have heard one too many in the past few days. “Frape”, the act of taking control of another’s Facebook account and posting for comic effect is now commonplace in the language of Facebook – no doubt you have seen it written recently. Similarly, we have all heard “rape jokes” – they infest our conversations and our screens but as I don’t wish to recompense them with more attention, I won’t quote any – suffice to say that whilst I don’t believe that those who use such terms or enjoy such jokes deliberately condone the act of rape, I do believe it betrays a strong sense of unawareness of the reality of the problem, as well as of the horror experienced by victims of such a crime.
The reality is that rape is a very significant problem in societies and cultures around the world. In our small country of Northern Ireland, it is this: after 3 rapes in a 24-hour period, the PSNI has indicated that there are, on average, 10 rapes reported in NI per week. This brings the total number of reported rapes in this small, “friendly” country to 525 in the past 12 months. In the 2009/2010 year, the count was 440. Rape is on the increase.
Sadly, it doesn’t stop at these figures. In 2010/2011, the detection rate for rape was just 13.5%. In 2008 , only 3% of rapes in Northern Ireland resulted in conviction, compared to 6% in the rest of the UK. These figures hint then to the reason for which many rapes go unreported: not only do the emotional and physical trauma and the difficulty in sharing the event with close relations keep rape a hidden subject, the motivation for reporting the assault is low with such gloomy outcomes in most of its occurrences.
Hopefully, by now, you understand why I don’t think it’s appropriate to make jokes about rape. Not only is it not a funny subject, it is offensive to those who have suffered the trauma of it, and it is also, I would argue, what contributes then to a flippant attitude about the act of rape which may encourage it. In a country where humour is counted as something very valuable (and which I very much enjoy), it is easy to allow certain subjects to filter through without much thought. We need to be much more aware of the context in which we live (ie, where rape is a serious issue that is by no means, and no means at all, funny) and quit the nonsense of a culture of rape jokes. Excuse me if I squirm when you say you’re going to ‘frape’ me. And sorry if my not laughing at your rape jokes makes me a prude, or a spoil-sport. Rape is not a joke. It is a significant societal problem and it is a long-lasting trauma that should not be made light of.
Part 2 of this series addresses victim-blaming. Part 3 will be published on the 28th and addresses sexism.