I don’t think rape is funny, and I don’t find jokes about rape entertaining. A lot of people might feel the same way, at least when it involves women, but when it comes to men, particularly men in prison, our society accepts rape, and sometimes even condones it. “Don’t drop the soap” or “Watch out for Bubba” are commonly recognized as rape jokes. When criminals are arrested people openly write of their wish to see them raped.
Think about 19-year-old Justin Bieber’s recent arrest in Florida. I am certain I have never heard a song by Justin Bieber, so I don’t have an opinion about him or his music. It appears that a lot of people enjoy his music, and a lot of other people seem to hate him. I don’t follow news about celebrities much, so I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the Facebook post that came across my page last week.
It was a picture of Bieber, smiling in an orange jail jumpsuit. Next to him was a picture of a dark skinned, seemingly angry black man. The caption implied that the black man was going to rape Bieber. It currently has over 400,000 likes on Facebook as well as nearly 20,000 shares and comments. Many of the comments were exceedingly vile, as is the nature of the Internet, but it isn’t uncommon to hear prison rape jokes in other media as well, including late night comedy shows.
"The police report described him as 5 feet 9 inches tall and 140 lbs. Or as his cell mate put it, 'just right'," said Conan O’Brien. And Jay Leno quipped that Bieber would not want to sing “I wanna be your boyfriend” to other prisoners.
After searching for the story online, I read about Bieber’s escapades and subsequent arrest. The vitriol in the comments was palpable, and many expressed their hope that the young celebrity would find himself in the cell with “Bubba” and be analy raped or forced to perform oral sex. In nearly every meme the imagined rapist was black.
I do not want Justin Bieber to be raped. I also don’t see anything funny about the chance that he (or anyone else) could be raped if he were to be incarcerated. Let me add that I also don’t see anything funny about the portrayal of his imagined rapist as a black man. Both the acceptance of rape, particularly of young men, and the assumption that the ones doing the raping will be black are repulsive to me.
According to Just Detention International (JDI), more than 200,000 prisoners, including children, are raped in American prisons each year. Rapes and other sexual assaults are carried out by staff and other prisoners on some of the most vulnerable people in our country. The state takes their freedom away, along with most rights, and thus has an obligation to protect them. This is not happening yet, partly due to a lack of public pressure to change the status quo.
Consider the outrage that would occur if late night comics were to joke about women being raped or how women deserve to be raped if they put themselves in certain situations. Few people hold such beliefs, and few find it humorous. With male prisoners things are different though. Not only do we as a society accept the current state of prisons, we actively support its inclusion in the punishment that prisoners suffer. We support it so strongly that we are able to make jokes about it. I look forward to the day when such jokes will go the way of jokes based on race, religion, nationality and sexuality. When the humor of them wears off and people see the real horror that we have so easily tolerated.