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Rape and speech

Rape and speech

By: Hafsa Khawaja

Using rape as an adjective in supposed humour is nothing less than an acceptance and approval for rape itself, for what is being thrown into process by this practice is the effective normalisation of the inhumanity of rape through its trivialisation

Rape. A word whose four letters fail in doing justice to the gravity and intensity of the monstrosity that violates the physical, psychological, emotional, mental and sexual being of an individual for a lifetime. However, in recent years, the appropriation of the word ‘rape’ as an adjective has taken on the form of commonality with widespread usage being quick to follow on both the internet and everyday conversations.

In line with the inevitable, the transformation of something into a commonality often renders the need to halt and understand its meaning, significance and implications nugatory; they have been so easily accommodated into the linguistic or social culture that their true recognition escapes from our mental sight. Similar has been the case with rape, which is seen to be inserted in conversations to ‘lighten’ them up or convey the unfavourable intensity of a happening, especially by the youth of both sexes.

However, using rape as an adjective in supposed humour is nothing less than an acceptance and approval for rape itself, for what is being thrown into process by this practice is the effective normalisation of the inhumanity of rape through its trivialisation. Using rape to describe the humiliating defeat of a sports team and to convey the extent of an examination paper gone bad have been heard or seen once by most, if not often.

By reducing an act as vicious, as cruel, as fiendish as rape to a source or adjective of amusement, its true nature and character is consigned to trivialisation. It then appears to be an occurrence minor enough to be employed as a comical instrument. Nadir Hasan, in his article titled ‘Rape and rhetoric’ published in a Pakistani daily on December 23, 2010, wrote: “Whether through moral blindness, callowness or unfamiliarity with the issue, by treating rape as a provocation rather than an act of aggression we allow this attitude to diffuse throughout society. Think of how many times you have used rape as a punchline to a joke that nobody should laugh at, but too many do. One such joke may seem harmless but collectively they contribute to make rape seem like something less than a violent crime.”

With an Indonesian judge remarking that women may actually enjoy rape and a Microsoft employee making a rape joke at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), it is understood that this problem does not limit itself to Pakistan. However, this linguistic trivialisation of rape is part of the wider rape culture and culture of violence terribly prevalent in places like Pakistan. It is an element of the rape culture that, as Nadir Hasan stated and asks to be reiterated, “treats rape as a provocation rather than an act of aggression”, which seeks to place the blame of the crime upon the victim instead of the perpetrator. It seeks not to stop rape but stop people from being raped and it seeks possible causes for the barbarity in order to explain it as an act that was reactive or unavoidable in order to refuse its wholehearted acknowledgement as a barbarity.

Rebecca Edwards, a rape survivor herself, wrote in her piece titled ‘The Funny Thing About Rape Jokes’ [Upon hearing a rape joke or rape being used to describe something], “I am reminded of how my rapist laughed when he was finished with me.” So, the next time you think of or hear someone throwing around rape as an adjective and in petty humour, think of and remind them of five-year old Sumbul who was brutally raped several times last year in Lahore and India’s Jyoti Singh, who succumbed to the savagery. Think of the 10,703 raped in the past five years in Pakistan.

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