The Harms of Desensitizing Sexual Assault

In recent news, MSNBC contributor Sam Seder was terminated after a tweet from 2009 emerged of him saying, “Don’t care re [about] Polanski, but I hope if my daughter is ever raped it is by an older truly talented man w/a great sense of mise en scene”. This was in reference to a petition to release filmmaker Roman Polanski from prison, who, in 1977, was accused of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl, but was not arrested for the charge until 2009. He has also been accused of sexual harassment by many other women, ranging from the ages of 10 to 16.

Another person who defended Polanski this week was actor Armie Hammer, who has garnered a lot of Oscar buzz for his performance in, “Call Me by Your Name”. When asked in a podcast if he would ever work with Polanski, he responded with, “The idealist in me would like to think, “Okay, I’m not working with Polanski the person, I’m working with him as an artist… it’s a grey area, it’s an area full of grey, you know?” The problem with both of these statements is that both rape jokes and apologism perpetuates into rape culture, which is defined as the environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. An article from the Orange County Rape Crisis Center explains that rape culture embraces how society blames victims of sexual assault and normalizes sexual violence. From small things like dress codes and simple statements like, “She was asking for it!” to being convicted of rape but only serving 3 months in prison all perpetuate into how rape culture shames victims while upholding the rapists themselves.

In light of many powerful men being accused of sexual assault, there are still those who have successful careers despite their allegations. In politics and film, these men are still seen as good people by many. What is not seen in these cases is that when you excuse rapists themselves or make jokes about sexual violence, it adds onto the stigma that rape is something to be taken less seriously. Many victims of sexual assault experience suicidal thoughts, post traumatic stress disorder, depression and may partake in self harm. Making jokes about a matter this serious makes it harder for them to speak up about their assault and erases the things they go through in their everyday lives.

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