Prison rape isn’t funnier than any other kind of rape. And men are not unstoppable rape machines. It’s time we stopped laughing.
There is one rape joke you can make on television. And that’s a joke about prison rape. The entertainment industry hasn’t gotten the message that rape is rape, whether the victim is a man or a woman. And it’s time they learned it.
“Don’t drop the soap!” Yeah, we get it. Hilarious.
We joke about things that frighten us. But joking about prison rape has other implications. First, it defines men as rapists by default. Men are not unstoppable rape machines. We are not slaves to our hormones at any age, and treating young men as if the “big head” can not control “the little head” teaches them a terrible lesson, that men are ruled by their urges, and we are not accountable for our behavior. That is not true, and it is not the kind of man anyone should be raised to be.
To paraphrase lawyer, writer, and warrior against child abuse Andrew Vachss, “to have thoughts about abusing a child is sick. To act on those thoughts is evil.” This applies to the rape of adults as well, whether it is forcible or coercive. When you know something is wrong and you do it anyway, it is a conscious choice. A choice of evil.
It has become expected, and in fact, accepted by the culture that doing time means you will most likely be raped. Where the old prison stereotype involved a con playing blues harmonica and another rattling a steel cup down the bars, when we think “prison” it now conjures images of walking the line in a scratchy orange jumpsuit while musclebound men covered in jailhouse ink whistle and make dates with our tightening sphincter. You can dream of beating up the big man on the cell block to show how tough you are, but when a crew corners you, even the baddest ass gets taken down.
Joking about and tolerating prison rape erases the possibility of rehabilitation from incarceration. There are individuals who cannot be rehabilitated, and they should be removed from the free population, but they are not to be given free rein to assault other prisoners. All this does is increase the predator population, by reinforcing what many criminal personalities grow up learning: that might makes right, and the strong prey on the weak. Prison is meant to punish by restricting the prisoner’s freedoms, not by allowing them to be victimized. There could be nothing more cruel and unusual.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 launched the first comprehensive study into rape within prison walls. The commission estimated conservatively that at least 20% of prisoners are sexually assaulted during their incarceration. The law also mandated that the Department of Justice “make the prevention of prison rape a top priority in each prison system.” Despite this, a corrections officer speaking candidly reported that it remains “relatively common” at his facility. And if you can’t summon empathy for a convicted criminal, be aware that these newly minted predators will be among us soon enough. It’s time to stop “the animal factory,” which is what prisoner-turned-writer Ed Bunker (aka “Mr. Blue” from Reservoir Dogs) called the prison system. Use solitary confinement for the predators, and remove them from the general population. Segregate the violent felon from the nonviolent, whether they are “white collar” or not. And stop joking about who would be your bitch. When it’s eight on one, the big dog loses every time.