Jokes That Aren't Funny: Prisoner Rape

Before Thanksgiving, I joked that many men would not object to the TSA pat-down procedure if it were administered by Victoria’s Secret supermodels.  It is obviously true, and I meant it not to objectify women but to mock men.  Still, a faithful reader objected that I was making light of something serious, and that our standards of holiness had declined.  Perhaps he’s right – but that’s not the point.

It got me thinking.  About the right and wrong uses of humor.  The value of humor in bringing light into dark situations.  And yet the danger of using humor in a way that degrades what is truly sacred and valuable.

There is a kind of joke that has bothered me intensely ever since I gained experience in prison ministry.  It is the joke that makes light of prisoner rape.  You see it all the time on television and in the movies.  If a male character was in prison, or is going to prison, people joke about how he will be sexually assaulted.  I just saw it, yet again, in the movie Inside Man, where Denzel Washington makes a semi-joke by threatening a terrorist that he will, once imprisoned, by forced to perform oral sex on big powerful inmates.  Or I remember, in the O. J. Simpson debacle, one joke said that he would enter prison as a tight end and leave prison as a wide receiver.

I’m sorry to cite such crude jokes.  But that’s the point.  They’re extremely crude.  And they’re inhumane.  Why do people find this funny?  You cannot spend much time in prison ministry — get to know the men who live there — and still find prisoner rape jokes funny.  We would never joke in such a way about females being raped by men.  So why is it okay to joke about men being raped by men.  Prisoner rape is a serious problem.  It is brutal, it is humiliating, soul-crushing, and obviously a severe threat to the victim’s health.

Do we believe that the victims, because they are convicted criminals, deserve it?  Some victims of prisoner rape are imprisoned for fairly minor offenses.  And what would we think of a judge who sentenced a convict to 10 years in prison and repeated beating, humiliation and rape at the hands of a cellmate?  Unfortunately, for some inmates, that’s what a 10-year sentence means.  But if a judge directly issued that sentence, well, he would be guilty of cruel and unusual punishment, and guilty of torture to boot.

Christians should take up the causes that others won’t, and should speak up for people who have no voice.  We rarely hear about the problem of prisoner rape, because there is no prisoner’s lobby.  We should fight against prisoner rape, and we can start by correcting those who make these jokes.  There’s nothing funny about rape of any kind.  Period.

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