I used to tell a rape joke

by Annaelle

I used to tell a rape joke.

Admittedly, it wasn’t a run-of-the mill, usual, lazy, rape-isn’t-serious kind of joke. I would never do such a thing.
I consider myself a sensible, compassionate and convinced feminist.Yet, I used to tell a rape joke.

I consider myself a sensible, compassionate and convinced feminist.
Yet, when I interact with people in the flesh, I have trouble talking about serious topics, including
feminism and rape, seriously.

I used to tell a rape joke.
Because even thought I have trouble talking about serious issues, these issues still need to be talked about.
Sometimes, I need a transparent façade to keep some measure of composure. I’m not a bad person because I laugh – I laugh because I’m a good person and would destroy myself if I didn’t.

Yet, today, I don’t feel like laughing. Today, instead, I will tell a story, a true story. A horrible story. A story about freedom, change and hope. And police, violence, rape and fear. But mostly about hope – I… I hope it’s mostly about hope.

In 2012, I had friends in Montreal’s student movement. For those of you who weren’t there, it wasn’t a good time to be a student activist. It also wasn’t a good time to be against police brutality. And it still isn’t – activists who manifest specifically against police brutality have a much higher chance of being victims of police brutality, and there hasn’t been a single protest against police brutality in Montreal since the death of Freddy Villanueva in 2008 that hasn’t been “dispersed” by the police assaulting the protesters.

Go figure.

Many of my friends are against police brutality. I was always – and still am – too afraid to manifest that particular opinion on the streets. Many are afraid to speak. Afraid because we’re supposed to live in a country where the freedom of speech and the freedom to peacefully rally are fundamental rights. Emphasis on «supposed». You don’t feel so free when you get cuffed detained, deprived of food and water for 10 hours just for «being there». 10 hours aren’t much ? Tell that to the protester who had a heart attack mid-detention, was actively denied a timely ambulance as cell phones were confiscated, screaming friends and allies were silenced and the collapsed hands-and-ankles-cuffed man was veiled from passerby’s sight. Oh right! you can’t because he’s dead. The police are sorry – he ain’t coming back, but those officers are still there, still brandishing riot shields against us – «it was an accident, an unfortunate lapse of judgment», they said. We are against police brutality. We are afraid to say so.

Go figure.

So it was that one of my friend told me a touching account of her experience at the hands of the police and how they used to typically handle “dispersing” protests. An account to which I listened with scant words and genuine attention. An account which I could not have a shadow of doubt about its veracity for the fresh, still-bleeding rent in her soul that I could see in her gaze as she told me. She was raped by five policemen pretending to body-search her.
And, from that day until recently, I used to tell a rape joke.

I used to tell a joke about how Montreal’s protesters are, of course, typically Canada’s most bloodthirsty protesters. About how it’s obviously understandable that Police officers systematically body search every female protesters they arrest when they perform mass arrests. Three times in a row, because police officers are notorious for being zealous in their “you’re never too cautious” attitude – weapons are both easy to hide in the buttocks, and to wield with your hands cuffed. But the fourth and fifth times in a row, that was definitely sexual assault – but, really, who could blame a police officer for wanting to be sure a “body search” was well-done?

I used to tell a rape joke about how it isn’t rape if the perpetrators are five police officers during a protest against police brutality. No – when it’s made by an on-duty police officer, it’s an «unfortunate lapse of judgment» instead of a crime.

Because fuck logic.

I used to tell a rape joke because people who denounce police brutality in Montreal aren’t taken seriously. So maybe I could make it a serious joke ?

I wasn’t so naïve as to think that a person would be convinced that police brutality is rampant in the streets of Montreal. I wasn’t so naïve as to think that I could motivate people to clamour for more accountability from police officers who use force against citizens who are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.

But I used to believe that, at least, I could tell my friend’s account anonymously and have people say :
“well I don’t know about how frequent it otherwise is, but that was definitely an example of police brutality – a real one”.

Like I said… mostly about hope.