Rape's Not Funny (Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault)

By Amy Stewart, LMFT

On Thursday, R. Kelly plead not guilty to 11 new counts of sexual assault. In February of this year he plead not guilty to 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. In 2002, the year he performed in the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a video was released of him raping and urinating on a 14-year-old girl. He was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography. In 2008, six years later, he was acquitted on all counts.

In an excellent and heart-breaking Fresh Air interview, journalist Jim DeRogatis shares his experience of the saga and the 19-year investigation recounted in his new book, “Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly.”  

I could write a book of my own about my frustration and fury in response… but this isn’t about that.

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If you aren’t familiar with his crimes, you are likely conversant with the punchlines. Late night hosts, sketch comedy shows, the twitterverse and water cooler chat were all quick to serve up a slew of hot takes on golden showers and other euphemisms for urine play. Whether in reference to Kelly or Trump, introduce a kink and shaming is sure to follow.

If “kink-shaming” isn’t part of your vernacular, it boils down to degrading someone for their sexual practices. The opposite looks like not concerning oneself with what others’ selves are consensually up to and into.  Some shorthands that apply:   Don’t yuck my yum. You do you. And in the purported words of Mrs. Beatrice Patrick Campbell circa 1910: “I really don’t mind what people do, so long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses!” (Enlightened and shocking statement at the time.)  It’s a recognition that folks’ kinks are not some moral failing and instead some thing that they find erotic, pleasurable, interesting... the list goes on.

There are plenty of opinions as to whether or not kink-shaming is ethical in response to Kelly and Trump… but this isn’t about that.

Instead it’s a reminder, that rather than address or acknowledge the harrowing sexual reports swirling around R. Kelly,  society spent 19 years deflecting from that horror to pee pee jokes.  

The voices of many victims (48 in R. Kelly’s case) and the behaviors of many predators are easily and absolutely overshadowed by society’s quick step into kink-shaming, while actively avoiding the egregious behavior that goes along with it.

It’s a common pattern. When some people are uncomfortable, they deflect with humor. Humor soothes us, it lightens the mood, it normalizes. Making jokes about Kelly and Trump’s sexual fetishes detract from the fact that they spent years using power to take advantage of young girls and women. Jokes acted as little birdies that shifted the focus away from these men’s illegal, horrifying and predatory behavior and instead to shaming them for behaviors that society finds funny.  In a story of a 34-year old man raping and urinating on a 14- year old girl, how on earth was the focus on the urine??

The intention of shaming is to make someone look silly, small and powerless.  R. Kelly was absolutely not powerless. He was the powerful, scary monster to many girls whose voices were not heard over the roar of collective laughter.