Trivializing Prison Rape

Now that Martha Stewart has been criminally indicted, we’re curious to know when the jokes are going to start about the possibility that she’ll be raped in prison.

Maybe Jay Leno can do a monologue on the subject, suggesting a few wacky tips to help Stewart avoid sexual assault behind bars. Maybe the idea of rape in prison can even be used as a gag in commercials and turned into some kind of hilarious parody of a business advice book.

Sound implausible?

Sound like something so crude and insensitive that it could never happen?

Unfortunately rape is prison is routinely exploited in exactly these ways. The latest entry in the prison rape joke genre is Andy Borowitz’ new book Who Moved My Soap? The CEO’s Guide to Surviving in Prison, which is a tongue-in-cheek primer for business executives facing the possibility of spending time in prison, and includes the predictable discussion of life as a “prison bitch” and the hazards of “peter-gazing.”

Martha Stewart’s name hasn’t been dragged into this newest rape “joke” because she’s a woman and our society now understands that the rape of women isn’t funny.

But in Borowitz’ hands, the rape of men in prison is once again being treated as fodder for cruel, inane humor instead of what it really is: one of the most appalling, institutionally ignored abuses of human rights in this nation.

Borowitz’ book has met with lavish praise from business magazines, which treat his unapologetic use of prison stereotypes and recycled riffs on rape as if they were about the most original thing ever set down on the printed page. Fortune called it a “must-read,” while Lou Dobbs told his CNN audience that Borowitz’ material was really “fresh and funny.”

The only problem with all this business media chuckling is that, for the more than 2 million American men and women who are actually behind bars, rape isn’t a punchline. It’s a reality. And it isn’t any funnier when it happens to thousands of anonymous victims than it would be if it happened to Martha Stewart.

Among the gags found in Who Moved My Soap? is the suggestion that a CEO can avoid being attacked by turning into a “‘psycho’ inmate who might ‘nut out’ without warning” thereby causing other inmates “to stay far out of his way and look upon him fearfully – beginning their gradual transformation into punk-ass bitches.”

The frightening reality behind the “humor” here is that the transformation Borowitz is describing is an actual phenomenon. Non-violent inmates, who are the most common targets for sexual assault behind bars, are routinely forced to resort to extreme violence as the only way to fend off rape. And they’re in danger of bringing this learned violence into society when they are released from custody. Sexual abuse in prison, a problem that affects as many as one in five male inmates, according to the best studies on the subject, has been deemed a form of torture by international legal bodies. Rape behind bars has a host of damaging effects on individuals and society. It spreads diseases including HIV, it undermines the legitimacy of the justice system, and it leaves victims susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and suicide.

In a publicity interview for his book on MSNBC, Borowitz said: “I try to write about things that people care about. Laughing about these subjects is often the best way for all of us to deal with them.”

There are a lot of subjects for which this is true. Laughter is a great healer. But laughter can also be a way to trivialize real harm. That’s why racist jokes won’t make it into Jay Leno’s monologue, why quips about the Holocaust aren’t used for commercials, and why sexual brutality shouldn’t be exploited in a book of business comedy. Laughing about rape dehumanizes the victims, and in the public discussion of rape behind bars, this has happened for far too long.

Stop Prisoner Rape is a national human rights group that works to end sexual violence against men, women, and youth in all forms of custody. We have no desire to censor anyone’s right to free expression. The one thing we recommend, however – not only for Borowitz, but also for many others who routinely make jokes about rape behind bars – is that it might be worth speaking to an actual survivor of prisoner rape before writing the next wisecrack about this subject.

Try contacting us first. We can connect you with men and women throughout the country who have been raped and sexually brutalized while in custody. Not one of them found the experience funny.

ALEX COOLMAN is Communications Coordinator of Stop Prisoner Rape. He can be reaced at: acoolman@spr.org

See Also:

Prison Bitch
by Steve J.B.

Stopping Prison Rape
by Joanne Mariner


More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro