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A Trans-Girl in the Boys' Unit | 2016 | Inside a Samhain Ritual


The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind.  

-H.P. Lovecraft

Your Rape Jokes Aren't Funny

If I told you that there is a country where even minor infractions are regularly punished by brutal rape for years on end, you would decry that as a human rights abuse, banned by the Geneva Convention. You would imagine some sandy land a world away where people in strange clothes speak in ululations. You're too politically aware to call them savages at full volume, of course, but I bet you think it.

You don't imagine that you are an active citizen of this land of punitive rape. Yet you simultaneously think it is just hilarious to threaten my adjudicated students with sexual violence. Whatever else your virtues, you perpetuate the idea that raping damaged people is justice. You don't just tolerate this atrocity, you revel in it. You joke to normalize rape culture, not caring who in earshot has been abused. Prisoners aren't really people anymore, after all.

No judge sentences a pot smoker to a hundred rapes, but you will think nothing of guffawing as you shout "Don't drop the soap!" or "Bubba's waiting for a sweet piece like you!" As far as the public is concerned, rape is an integral part of the correctional process and you are delighted in wishing that fate upon people who infringed on the social order.

You are not necessarily a bad person. You would say that, on balance, no one deserves to be raped and feel pretty good about yourself for taking this bold position. However, a switch flips in your mind when it comes to incarceration (perhaps the same switch that gave us the clause in the thirteenth amendment that prisoners could still be used as slave labor). If someone goes to prison, you readily prescribe long sessions of corrective rape and somehow still think you are civilized. Much of the country seems to agree with you. Even Spongebob Squarepants has made a prison rape joke, as did Rocko's Modern Life and dozens of other children's programs -- as did I before I began working with adjudicated minors. I can't stand being part of a system victimizing these boys.

Perhaps worst of all from your comedic perspective, you aren't funny. Comedy is best when it is used to speak truth to power, always punching up to point out the foibles of people who think they are our betters. When you are telling a disadvantaged people that they deserve to be raped to appease your sense of justice, you are at best a bully but you are definitely the lowest of the low when it comes to hack comedians. (And, no, rape jokes don't magically become funny when you apply them to whatever celebrity just ran afoul of the law/the court of public opinion, like when Jared Fogle was sentenced and the New York Post felt the need to make a rape joke their headline. The only "truth" you are speaking is that we should facilitate rape on the taxpayer's dime.)

Let's try a not-so-hypothetical. If you have been locked up with people who repeatedly rape you, if you daily fear for your bodily sanctity, if you are sexually violated more times than you can count, if you are infected with STDs you are too ashamed to admit you've contracted, and if you know that your society feels you deserve it, are you going to come out of the experience more or less stable? And, once your sentence is up, are you going to be able to reintegrate into society or will you be so broken that you can only lash out against the world that condoned this? I'm going to dare to guess that, when you stop to think about it, you believe serial rape does not have a therapeutic effect. I can assume you would rather encounter a rehabilitated former convict on a dark night rather than one who was, with your approval, sexually tortured for a decade.

This is not even touching upon the inherent homophobia of your jokes. Your jokes say that sexual contact with other men is a punishment in itself, that men are made less by it. Nothing would tickle you more than to know the man who stole your wallet will spend months or years "other-than-straight." That's the real joke, right? Especially if he is a black man, disproportionately incarcerated, because what can be more emasculating than forced sex? American comedy lives for that. What a comeuppance! As I am sure you heard the feminists on your college campus say to your retreating back, rape is not about sex. It is using the trappings of sex to humiliate and subjugate another person. Being raped makes someone gay by the same logic that being mugged makes one a philanthropist.

Of course, if it is women raping women, you don't tell that sort of joke. Instead, you treat this violation as fodder for breathy masturbation. Late night Cinemax seemed to exist for little else.

Not so incidentally, the correctional system takes great pains to make clear that rape has no place within its walls - or would if the Prison Rape Elimination Act didn't keep getting weakened by legislators. This is not to say that rape doesn't occur, that there is not an epidemic within prisons because society expects it and looks the other way while snickering. My facility remains open in part because it gives vulnerable boys - gay and transgender, mentally imbalanced, or too young or slight to put up much of a fight - a place to serve their time, safe from leers and searching hands. Twice a year and whenever they are going to be released, I give them surveys that allow them to respond to how they were treated in the facility. The survey spends a whole page asking the particulars of any sexual violations that might have occurred in our care. So far, no resident in my tenure has anonymously confessed to having been abused. I dread if it should ever happen. They are constantly challenging boys by their past circumstances. The last thing I want for them is another trauma, let alone a state-sanctioned one, warping them further from the people they ought to become.

If PREA is allowed to keep any of its claws, more young offenders will be kept out of adult prisons and those who remain will be shifted to units away from the adult inmates, largely to keep them from (further) sexual violence. It is unsurprising how many sexually assaulted boys in the detention system become suicidal. According to Just Detention International, a human rights organization trying to eliminate sex abuse in detention, over 200,000 prisoners are raped in custody each year. The Bureau of Justice states that incarcerated men are thirty times more likely to be raped than a woman on the outside. The sad fact is, because of the shame and the feelings of powerlessness, we will never have reliable statistics of how many people in the care of the state are raped. This problem isn't distant from you. One in seventeen white men will spend some time in prison. One in three black men will. Zero of them deserve to be sexually violated, no matter how you feel about the severity of their crimes.

Under our penal system, not even rapists deserve to be raped.

We are told not to spank our children, that this only teaches them that problems are best solved with violence and pain. What are we saying when we declare people deserve to be raped?

You see rape as a deterrent. When you tell a difficult youth that they will be anally raped by a stranger if they go to prison, you think you are scaring them straight. In fact, you may be reminding them of a violation at the hands of a family member or friend. You are telling them that you are more than okay with the idea of this happening to them again. I have spent five years working with this population and have heard them parrot the threats "well-meaning" adults laid upon them. I have known a boy's trauma history and shut down coworkers who started speculating to boy as to what will happen to his ass should he enter the Department of Corrections, as though it is not repellant to be tittering over a fourteen-year-old being raped.

Prison shouldn't be a positive outcome in anyone's life; if you end up there, something has gone very wrong. The punishment is that one loses one's freedom, which is largely considered justified. However, the sting of prison should never be at the hands of other inmates, who should be there for their own rehabilitation. You don't consider it righteous to give a convicted rapist your thumbs-up to victimize captive young men for years, right?

I am not telling you that prisoners are guiltless. Some of them have committed grievous sins against the world. Some are almost beyond rehabilitation -- though we can only consider ourselves compassionate if we continue to try. Some will never be able or permitted to rejoin society. We incarcerate a much larger proportion of our population than other countries, yet some inmates are precisely where they belong.

Criminals are often victims of crimes that never made it near courts, crimes that they were too scared to ever mention. If we are to persist in believing we have a correctional model and are not complicit monsters, we need to prevent criminal violation from being an acceptable part of our carceral system. That can start today, with you, by ceasing to make rape jokes.

We ought to be better than that. We should not perpetuate a system where men and women are raped. Our prisons are not pleasant, often by design, but they needn't foster a crime we otherwise think is the height of inhumanity.

Soon in Xenology: Faces.

last watched: A Mighty Wind
reading: Sex at Dawn
listening: Tool - Prison Sex

A Trans-Girl in the Boys' Unit | 2016 | Inside a Samhain Ritual

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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