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Why Rape Isn't A Joke

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This is the first Huffington Post UK blog entry on behalf of the Rape Is No Joke campaign. We are a new campaign, set up by Socialist Students, aimed at tackling the increasing trend of misogyny, particularly rape jokes, in comedy.

Obviously comedy isn't the biggest problem facing women. However, comedy doesn't exist in a bubble, it often reflects and has an effect on attitudes in wider society. Rape jokes add to the culture of dismissal and trivialising of rape that exists all too often in wider society. Unlike with other crimes, there is a growing trend amongst politicians, press and other public figures of making statements which shift the blame from the perpetrator of the crime, the rape, to the victim.

There has already been a big outcry and protests of young women against victim blaming, including the huge Slutwalk demonstrations that spread to many major cities across the world.

Most rape jokes follow this trend, lionising rapists and making fun of victims - these are the rape jokes we're campaigning against. Whilst 80,000 women in the UK are raped every year, only 15% of them report it. Many of the other 85% are scared they won't be believed or taken seriously. That combined with no justice can have a devastating effect on a woman's life. With this campaign we want to be part of tackling that culture.

We've already had a very positive response from students with meetings on dozens of campuses and from a number of comedians, venues and people wanting to get involved in the campaign. It's ultimately fairly simple - we are asking comedians and venues to sign our pledge and help us educate and tackle the increasingly common attitude that rape is something to be laughed at.

In our first post we also thought it would be a good idea to take up a number of inaccuracies and criticisms that are circulating in the wake of our launch, including the recent article by John Fleming entitled 'In Defence of Rape Jokes'.

The first point to make abundantly clear, and which is the biggest mistake in John's article, is that we are not advocating a ban on rape jokes. We would, for example, strongly oppose any move to illegalise such jokes. We don't believe a state ban will fundamentally tackle victim blaming or its causes. We think that it is only by organising to challenge the sexism and victim blaming behind these jokes that we will be able to have an effect on driving them out of comedy completely.

It's not at all unheard of for venues to put limitations on comedians who perform in their venues. In fact, before we launched our campaign, we already knew of a handful of venues that have said they won't book comedians who tell jokes about rape, amongst other issues. What we are asking is firstly that comedians don't tell rape jokes and that venues don't book comedians known for using rape jokes and that they make clear that this is their policy. This is not censorship.

Free speech doesn't mean being able to say what you want, where you want, when you want, uncommented on or uncriticised. We have the democratic right to protest and campaign against misogyny and if that includes trying to convince and putting pressure on comedians to stop telling rape jokes then that is our democratic right too.

We are also, contrary to some of the criticisms levelled at the campaign, not calling for the subject of rape to become a taboo that is never mentioned in comedy. We are against jokes that trivialise the issue and the victim and the reality is that this is what the vast majority of jokes about rape do.

We want to be able to enjoy comedy without misogyny. Really not too much to ask!

Suzanne Beishon
London