How many times do we have to say, “You can’t joke about rape”?
Author: Sonia Stanger
“Thanks to the complainers who ruined trivia for everyone.” That’s just one of many comments I came across online last Thursday, after URSU released a statement about the much talked-about incident where a host made a joke about sexual violence. As one of said “so-called complainers,” I would like to say: trivia was already ruined. Trivia was ruined the second a joke about knocking a woman unconscious to have sex with her – and yes, that did happen, the hosts have admitted so – was said over a microphone. I went up to the stage that night to talk to the hosts about what was said because it’s important to me, as it should be to all of us. A campus bar is a place where everyone deserves to feel safe. I didn’t feel safe the second rape became a joke in that room, and I especially didn’t feel safe after being verbally assaulted by one of the hosts, who then physically threatened my friends. Confronting that doesn’t make me a complainer.
That night, I tried to engage with the hosts genuinely and calmly. I didn’t attack them or threaten anything. I wanted to have a dialogue, because rape is real and personal for me. It is, or will become, real for most Canadian women. I wish people would consider that fact in talking about this situation. That’s what I wanted to try and start a conversation about – comments that trivialize rape matter. They matter because they contribute to a culture that normalizes sexual violence in its quieter forms, whether in a joke, in a series of Facebook messages like those at Dalhousie, or in a catcall. They contribute to a world where millions of women are silenced or not believed when they shout ‘this is happening to me’ or ‘I don’t feel safe.’
I also want to dispel a myth that I’ve seen floating around, that my friends and I had some kind of agenda in lodging a complaint about the comment. We have been regular trivia attendees for over a year. We go there to have fun and enjoy the pre-arranged weekly friend time trivia affords, just like everybody else. Why would we want trivia to be ruined? Also, there was no personal vendetta against the hosts; I did not know either of them before this happened.
I understand that people may think we overreacted, made too big a deal out of nothing, but I would ask those people to try and imagine the impact of those comments on anyone who has ever known sexual violence. Date rape is an epidemic in bars. When a host, an authority figure in that room, makes it okay to joke about rape, it sends a message that the actual danger is not a serious concern in that space. It raises the question of how safe the space itself actually is.
So call me a killjoy, if you want. What I want is to know that our campus is a safe place for everyone. The way this situation escalated is unfortunate. But, hopefully, this can be a learning experience, both on the individual level and for the institution. We all have a responsibility to ensure that our school is a safe and welcoming place. I, for one, won’t let people telling me that I’m a whiner get in the way of that.
If you ever feel unsafe on campus, you can call Campus Security at (306) 585-4999; they’re available 24 hours a day. They also provide a Walk Along program if you ever need someone to walk you to your vehicle or bus.