Alex Dibranco, Is Prison Rape a Laughing Matter?, womensrights.change.org,
January 23, 2010
Over on Change.org's Criminal Justice blog, Te-Ping has a post about a new campaign from JUST DETENTION International that's geared toward making people think about the human being behind a prison jumpsuit.
The premise of the campaign is the dehumanizing way in which prison rape or abuse is treated as great material for a joke, rather than with the recognition that these are real people being violated. These people were sentenced to imprisonment, not to the cruel and unusual punishment of rape or assault. In many cases, though they may be non-violent offenders serving short prison terms, the failure to address this problem turns that into a de facto sentence of rape -- which is never, by any stretch of the imagination, a just penalty.
The campaign juxtaposes the pictures of one woman in two outfits: a feminine pink top, and an orange prison jumpsuit. The question is whether you would help her when wearing the first outfit, but not the second. The question is whether putting on a jumpsuit suddenly makes getting raped funny.
Unfortunately, one of the flaws of this campaign is that you don't need to add a jumpsuit into the equation for people to find rape funny. You don't need to add a jumpsuit to deter people from helping a woman or girl being raped. It happens already.
I certainly hope this campaign helps some people to think differently about rape and assault in prisons. But in order to stop prison rape -- in order to make a campaign like this one truly effective -- we need to first address our permissive rape culture. So I'm stuck repeating a phrase that I keep hoping will stick: rape is never funny. Not even when it's dressed up in orange.