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Rape Jokes Are Not Funny

Humor is an excellent tool that people use to entertain, educate, highlight and address important issues. This is why almost every newspaper in the country has a section that features cartoons. Just last week, the Malawi Newspaper dated 24th July 2021 received backlash from the public over its featured cartoon, _Kanjipiti. The cartoon joked about the Msundwe Rape victims' case. One of the cartoon characters, a male, advised another character, who is female to get raped so that she gets compensated just like the Msundwe rape victims. Is rape culture so ingrained in our society that it is normal to make such jokes?

The cartoon did not only joke about the Msundwe rape victims, but it also made fun of all rape victims by implying that women can conveniently position themselves to get raped. The cartoon purposely chose to ignore rape as a crime and portrayed it as a money-making strategy. In doing so, it completely stripped away the gruesome experience, after experience, and the trauma which rape victims go through. The cartoon portrayed how society blames the rape victims by implying that a woman is in control in cases of sexual violence. Such kind of behavior normalizes and excuses many forms of sexual violence against women and girls. It also ignores and sympathizes with the perpetrators.

By blaming the victim, people dissociate the crime from the perpetrator. The perpetrator roams freely thinking it was out of his control and that anyone in his situation would have done the same. As I am writing this, there is a little boy out there who found the cartoon funny and will later on feel validated to commit such crimes. What we saw in the cartoon is not different from the “what was she wearing”? “Why was she at that place at that time”? Statements every time a girl gets raped or faces any form of sexual harassment.

Making fun of victims downplays the seriousness of the crime. Jokes like that reduce a serious crime into something that people can just laugh off and forget. Sometimes these Jokes are made at the expense of the perpetrator. For instance, in the case of Aubrey Sumbuleta where the phrase “Izi akudya ndindani” used by the perpetrator (Sumbuleta) in a case of sexual harassment was casually popularized and adopted. By using this phrase, people refused to acknowledge the harm the words and what followed caused to the victim. Such are examples of how jokes can downplay the severity of rape and sexual assault in general. When people see cases of sexual violence being portrayed like that, it makes them perceive the crime as not so dangerous and serious.

By looking at the numbers of sexual violence against women cases in the country, we can conclude that this country is not safe for our women and girls, and making jokes about that is very insensitive. It is very triggering for every girl and woman out there. If people find humor in rape, what are they capable of doing in the name of “it was just a joke”? Most times when women and girls report sexual violence they are not taken so seriously because, in the perpetrators' defense, "they were just joking" and didn’t mean any harm. Such responses to crimes can also make victims reluctant to come forward and report such issues to relevant authorities.

Of course, the Newspaper apologized after it received backlash from people, but the harm caused can never be undone. The cartoon is still there and the paper is still being sold, people have read it including children. How they let something as insensitive as this get published is inexcusable. It Makes you question the whole Newspaper corporation, their policies, and stand on sexual harassment and violence.

Rape Survivors and other sexual harassment victims deserve our support and respect. It is wrong to use their stories and experience for content just to make people laugh. There is no justification for rape jokes. Humor and freedom of expression should never be an excuse for making insults, insensitive and ugly remarks. We need to do better.

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