Lock the rapist up and see how he likes it when he’s turned into some guy’s girlfriend.
We’ve all heard sentiments like the one up above at some point. They might have come from acquaintances, friends, or family members who thought that they were taking a hard line stance against rape. It might have even been us, in a moment of weakness, expressing a wish for a rapist to truly understand the violation he has inflicted on another. We see it all the time, more commonly the more horrific a rape is considered to be — including from feminists, womanists, or others who are invested in bringing an end to sexual violence. The words can very easily roll off the tongue. It can be easy to believe that it makes sense to say, I hope he’s raped in jail and finds out what it’s like.
And it needs to stop.
The simple fact is that wishing rape on another person is never, no matter what the circumstances, anti-rape. It inherently can’t be, and there is no way around it.
At the most surface level, the way in which such a sentiment is very frequently expressed — the “girlfriend” (or “bitch”) line up above — is straight up misogynistic and homophobic. It works off of an assumption that men who are sexually penetrated by another man (consensually or not) are inherently feminine, and further suggests that “girlfriends” — women — exist for the purposes of being raped. This is, for hopefully obvious reasons, simply not okay.
But more importantly than that, such a statement trivializes, and approves of, the very real issue of prison rape. Prison rape is an epidemic — in fact, around 20% of inmates in male prisons are raped. And those who are raped in male prisons are not usually rapists or other violent criminals (though it would not magically be okay if they were), but rather people incarcerated for non-violent crimes, such as drug use or theft. Minors placed in adult prisons are particularly at risk. Gay men are particularly at risk. People with disabilities are particularly at risk. And trans women who are wrongly and transphobically so frequently placed in male prisons are at extraordinary risk (one study shows that 59% of all transgender inmates have been sexually assaulted). These are many of the people who are raped in prison. It is their experiences that form the basis of the cultural joke about prison rape. They are the reason that so many expect that a man going to prison likely will be raped, and so to wish rape on an incarcerated rapist is to also, intentionally or not, approve the continuation of vulnerable populations experiencing systematic sexual violence.
This context is basic, and it is vital — it can’t be washed away, nor should it be. And it alone should be enough for us to work for an end to such statements.
But let us consider for a moment the sentiment itself — the very core of simply wanting a rapist to be raped in return for what he has done.
I understand the desire for vengeance. And I understand how rape survivors can lash out in moments of anger, and feel that desire for vengeance down to their very core. I have been there. Many, many times. And while I believe that acting on that desire is wrong, I also understand the need to let that anger out — to express it, to expunge it, to work through it, even if it results in saying things that we profoundly regret. I would never want to deny anyone that release, or for anyone to deny themselves that as a result of something that I have said.
But it’s also well-known that expressions of anger can often expose our prejudices, including those we don’t even know we have, and those which we are appalled to learn we have. And that certainly can include the deep-seated prejudices instilled in us through rape culture.
To say that a rapist should be raped is to say that rape is a legitimate act of revenge and justice. It is to establish a set of circumstances under which rape is acceptable.
Rape as a form of revenge is already a too common aspect of our world. Many rapes are committed for precisely that reason. Rape is used as an act of “revenge” against a partner for being unfaithful. It’s used as revenge against women who reject sexual advances by men who feel they have the right to their bodies, or who are otherwise “being a bitch.” Rape is wielded as a “punishment” for dressing a certain way, drinking, talking back, working as a sex worker, and much, much more.
Many already believe that these are legitimate motivations for rape. And these beliefs are a part of the strong foundation of rape culture. The last thing we should be doing is reinforcing and encouraging them.
Rape is a violent crime for which there is never an excuse. Unlike with murder and assault, there is never such a thing as raping in self-defense. Everyone has a right to their own body — this has to be a basic staple of the anti-sexual violence movement. No one deserves to have their body violated, ever — no matter what they’ve done that might be interpreted by someone as provocation, no matter how angry they’ve made us, no matter how inhuman we perceive them to be, no matter how little else we feel they deserve, no matter how horrible of a person they have been.
And if we are to concede otherwise, that some violations are justified, that some people really do have it coming, we have already lost.
We need to ultimately keep our eye on justice — and to constantly ask ourselves difficult questions about what “justice” means in a world where prisons are themselves a site of systematic sexual violence, and where those seeking and needing justice are more often than not harmed and silenced by those who are supposed to help them. And we need to allow ourselves to be angry and to fight back in ways that are responsible, that do not undermine our work, and that do not reinforce oppression. We need to because a world in which any rape is seen as acceptable is a world in which rape will continue to thrive. We need to stop wishing on others that which we so condemn.