Stop the Violence

Posted on 26 November 2012

I am a dual US/Australian citizen. As such I could only minimally avoid the craziness that is the US elections. The amount of jaw-dropping sexism that came to fore this time around was saddening. Within this atmosphere Daniel Tosh was reported to have publicly made rape jokes. When a woman in his audience responded “actually rape jokes are never funny”, his comeback was said to be, “wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now?”

The Tosh incident stirred a lot of controversy. This controversy spilled into Australia when a Melbourne venue decided to run a public “debate” for entertainment purposes entitled, “There’s Nothing Funny About Rape” with an all male line-up for both the affirmative and the negative. The outcry from the event, and subsequent related events, caused the venue to close those comedy nights. Some comedians are crying “censorship”, others are crying “abuse”.

The Issues

Censorship

Neither Australia, the US, nor the UK have blanket freedom of speech. I have spoken about this before. The US, UK, and Australia are all signatories to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 20 of that covenant states: “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.” Some countries and some states in Australia have made laws that extend the definition of hate speech and prohibit any form of incitement to violence. Whether you think this is fair or not, certain jokes could land you in jail.

We are always walking a fine line when it comes to free speech vs public safety. As stated on the International Bar Association Website:

“Identifying the point where free speech becomes hate speech, and therefore justifies a limitation on freedom of expression, has historically been riddled with problems: set the standard too low and the potential objects of hate speech are left unprotected; set it too high and it risks becoming a tool of persecution for governments against their opponents.”
The “Value” of Hate Speech

Go over a certain line with this sort of censorship and you just push speech underground, where it is harder to become aware of who is potentially dangerous. Nevertheless, we don’t want a leader at a large event shouting at people to tear down buildings, set fire to things, and murder particular sorts of person.

Also remember, when someone responds to your freedom of speech with opposing speech, that’s not censorship. That’s a continuation of freedom of speech. Choose a controversial subject for your comedy and you will get controversy. You have to live with that.

Rape and Abuse

Sexual abuse of any sort is horrific. It damages people in very deep ways. The American Psychology Association reports that in the US approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.

This isn’t just about the girls and women. Anyone who is vulnerable in any way can become a target of rape. Rape is about expressing anger and asserting dominance and control. If a young boy is the most convenient target, then they can also be subject to this destructive behaviour. Females under-report abuse because they are shamed and threatened into remaining silent. Males also under-report because they are also shamed into silence. They do not want to seem less “manly” and be the subject for further abuse and bullying.

I dare anyone of any gender to read this article about the hazing and sexual assault of children at a US high school and not be appalled. People who go through these situations become sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People suffering from PTSD often die by their own hands in suicide.

The problem with rape jokes made on the victims is they normalise the act and desensitise people to the horrible damage it does. At the moment some comedians are quoting the conclusion to a study that says, “rapists believe everyone else is a rapist.” Telling rape jokes fuels rapists self-justification in perpetrating these acts. This excellent article “Meet The Predators” by Thomas MacAulay Millar directly quotes some of the literature that people have been passing around third-hand and paints a picture in need of changing.

What We Can Do

The rape joke debate is not about boys vs girls. It’s about decent people against a particularly cruel form of violence. People getting tangled in personal arguments obscures the issue. What we need are clear fair courses of action that address the issue rather than vilifying individuals. We want all the people on-side we can get in order to make a real difference in the world.

Education

We need to inform both comedians and audiences alike about what rape and sexual abuse are, who suffers from these acts, what sort of toll it takes on their lives and their families’s lives, how you can recognise when someone is being abused, what you can do to stop harrassment, abuse, and rape. Perhaps we should put together a flyer that is made available at venues and festivals. Education is always better than censorship.

Code of Ethics

We could put together a comedy code of ethics. This would clearly set out the lines between humour and hate speech. Comedians could then pledge adherence to the code. The logo for this code of ethics could then be put on their posters and flyers to let audiences know that they will not be subject to certain forms of objectionable humour. Journalists and doctors have long held similar codes in order to uphold professional integrity.

Rating

You don’t need an outside body to administer something like this, just a clear set of guidelines on how to apply a rating to yourself. Audiences will appreciate knowing what they are getting into when they pay for a ticket e.g.: PG [poo jokes], M [mature language], R [rape jokes]. You have to be willing to stand by your material to use this system. If you have to trick people to come to your show, something is seriously wrong.

White Ribbon

White Ribbon Day is held every 25 November to 06 December. It was originally organised by a group of men in Canada in response to an event on 06 December 1989. On that day a young man walked into the École Polytechnique University in Montreal, Canada, and massacred 14 of his female classmates. The White Ribbon men wanted to stop anything like this happening ever again, and began an information and action campaign. Ten years later the United Nations General Assembly declared 25 November the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, with the now-iconic white ribbon as its symbol.

If you care. If you want to see the end of violence, then take the oath and wear the White Ribbon band. At the upcoming Melbourne International Comedy Festival I would like to see dozens upon dozens of comedians proudly wearing that band. Then I want you to convince others to take the oath as well. This is how change happens.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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