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Rape and Violence: Just a Joke?

September 20, 2011

by Shereen Reda, Prevention Program Coordinator, Sexual Violence Center

According to an internet search, there were over 45 million groups on Facebook at the end of 2009. Mountain-climbers, people who like dogs, Star Wars fans, businesses…when you stop to ponder it, there’s a lot of potential for offensive messaging on the social networking site. Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities reads that users will not post any content that “is hateful, [or] threatening” nor use the site for anything that is “malicious or discriminatory”. So why is it that pages such as “Riding your girlfriend softly so she won’t wake up” and “Throwing bricks at sluts” are still present groups on Facebook? Based on posted comments, it seems that the creators’ and fans’ intentions were to post humorous content, and make jokes and observations about happenings in regular life. However, the result is something else altogether.

Consider the names of these groups, which promote – unintentionally or not – sexual assault and violence. When someone is sleeping, they cannot consent to sexual activity. To suggest being “gentle” in doing so in order to not wake that person up doesn’t mean that someone is being considerate; it means that they’re doing something to that person without their permission. Translation: that’s rape. As for throwing bricks, that’s violent no matter who we’re talking about. The word “slut” is generally used to describe women who don’t fall into the traditional sexual roles assigned to them. To use such titles as a platform to posting jokes and other supposedly entertaining content equates what’s suggested in those titles – in this case, sexual assault and violence against women – with something to laugh at.

Like most people, I don’t have a problem with a good joke, or an unconventional sense of humor. In fact, laughing is a great way to relieve stress, take care of oneself, and for some, keep hope going. What I do have a problem with is when people aren’t accountable for how their words (or actions) affect others, particularly when others tell those people exactly how they’re affected and what those words (or actions) are suggesting. A great number of people see a clear problem with these Facebook group names. We defer again to Facebook’s terms of service: “Because of the diversity of our community, it’s possible that something could be disagreeable or disturbing to you without meeting the criteria for being removed or blocked. For this reason, we also offer personal controls over what you see, such as the ability to hide or quietly cut ties with people, Pages, or applications that offend you.”

So, what does it take to meet the criteria for removal? An act of violence? I’d rather take a proactive approach, one that has prevention in mind instead of waiting for violence to happen before people realize the impact of their “jokes”.

What’s the Sexual Violence Center’s approach to prevention? Click here to find out about the Green Dot strategy.

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