What To Say When Someone Jokes About Sexual Assault

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This year, there's been a lot of talk about changing the culture: How do we teach powerful men not to sexually harass or assault the people they hold power over? How can we band together to stop sexual assault and harassment? How can we stop rape culture in its tracks? So-called "jokes" may seem like the most minor of issues related to rape culture — but the first thing we all need to learn is what to say when someone jokes about sexual assault.

These jokes have nothing to do with your sense of humor, and everything to do with normalizing the idea of sexual assault. When people make jokes about rape, about men overpowering women, even about women deserving it, and no one calls them out on it, it's a signal that the joke's acceptable.

Sure, a rape joke is a far cry from an actual incident of sexual violence, but think of the rape jokes as the foundation of the pyramid of rape culture. If you take away the foundation — if you create a situation where rape jokes are unacceptable, instead of a situation where victims feel forced to bite their tongues and bear it — then everything else will be a little bit less likely to take root and flourish.

You never know when you might be in a situation where someone makes a joke about assault, so you need to be ready. Here are a few ways to respond, so you can choose the one that you're the most comfortable with.