Apparently Connecticut taxpayers are now funding rape satires. No joke. John Petroski’s editorial, published Feb. 8 in The Reporter, Central Connecticut State University’s newspaper, tells readers that “rape is a magical experience that benefits society as a whole.” He goes on to enlighten his audience with the message that were it not for rape, ugly women would never “know the joys of intercourse with a man who isn’t drunk,” prisoners wouldn’t get any action, and — most relevant for the editorialist — newspapers would go out of business.
Mr. Petroski, some jokes just aren’t funny. The National Center for Injury Control and Prevention states that 32,000 pregnancies annually result from rapes; victims suffer an array of physical maladies including headaches, gynecological issues, back pain and STDs. Moreover, rape survivors are likely to develop a host of psychological problems, ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
Not only do these effects show the impact of individual suffering, they also point to medical and psychological treatments which are costly for society on the whole. But the joke gets sourer still: According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, one in six women are victims of sexual assault; one in 33 men are as well. Furthermore, 80 percent of these victims are under the age of 30, and many are in universities like Yale or Central Connecticut State. And while these numbers may seem high, they don’t tell half of the story: The United States has the highest rate of rape among nations that report incidences of sexual assault, and the NCICP adds that our nation ought to blush an even deeper red, since only one in five women actually report their rape. These statistics demonstrate that newspaper staff writers and columnists ought to be using their voice to increase awareness of the crime rather than attempting to satirize what is already dangerously taboo.
All I’ve offered thus far are statistics, numbers that wash over us like the stock-market crawl on the bottom of a CNN news ticker. But for those of us who know rape victims, we recognize that the blow to their lives is immeasurable: Their trust in their environment is destroyed; their sense of safety in the world is undone; their relationships are shattered; and when they see a rape on film or read a satire about it in a college weekly, the wounds of their attack reopen. Rape is not just a series of numbers — it is a trail of ruined lives.
This is not to say that writers ought to avoid difficult topics. On the contrary, we’re called upon to voice them, even when others are silent. But that’s not to say all’s fair in love and words, because some stories are not worth telling. Some stories hurt more than they help. Yet I admit that this is a struggle, because all too often the most sensational stories are the most successful stories. And successful stories make household names.
It may be the case that John Petroski published this insensitive piece to increase his Google hits, and in writing this editorial, I am well aware that I’ve contributed to that: More people will know his name for my publicizing it. Yet in his choice, he has damaged the integrity of all journalists. But his work is redeemable: John Petroski has reminded me that the work of a writer must never be done at the expense of human lives.
Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is a 2003 graduate of Yale College and a fourth-year student at the Yale Divinity School.