Comedian's comments on rape encourage debate

Daniel Tosh told a joke on Friday, July 6, that created headlines across the country.

According to a CNN article, the woman heckler in the audience of his show yelled, "Rape jokes are never funny." Tosh replied to the woman and his audience, "Wouldn't it be funny if you were raped by five guys, like, right now?"

Tosh issued an apology via Twitter account on July 10.

Authors of the CNN article, Julie Burton and Michelle Bruns, called Tosh's joke "morally repugnant."  However, both authors agreed that "there is absolutely room in both comedy and in feminism for discussions about rape jokes that highlight rape as a social ill versus those that perpetuate that injustice."

Author and fellow comedian Mike Amato of the Huffington post commented on the Tosh situation by describing rape jokes as "guilty until proven funny."  Amato said, "There's something about a good offensive joke that even if it hits close, it takes you out of the horror of it rather than bringing you back into it."

Hattiesburg's non-profit organization The Shafer Center for Crisis Intervention is dedicated to helping victims of sexual violence and the survivors of homicide and suicide. All counseling and help are on a strictly volunteer basis. This center offers all of its services for free.

The Shafer Center was founded in 1983 as the Hattiesburg Rape Crisis Center. According to the center's website, in the early '80s, a serial rapist known as The Westside Rapist terrorized the Hattiesburg Area. The rapist targeted college students. The center was founded in part to aid these victims.

"I don't know a single man or woman who asks to be raped," said Center member and former victim Teres'sa Ellzey. Ellzey added most rapists defend their actions by saying the victim was asking for rape.

According to Burton and Bruns, this is a fact women must come to terms with.

"The problem isn't a failure of men to see rape as horrific," said Burton and Bruns. "It's that many of them do not perceive that rape itself lies on the far end of a broad spectrum of ways in which the idea of rape, the invocation of rape, or the threat of rape is used to intimidate women or to regulate their behavior.

"When women are told that they shouldn't drink too much or walk alone at night or wear a revealing top, they are being given a guided tour of the boundaries of acceptable female conduct. Women are supposed to understand that these boundaries are policed by rapists. We cross the line at our own risk. And if we are caught, the brutal punishment is one we have earned," said the authors.

"When anyone makes fun of molestation or rape, it brings back a sensitive subject, and bad memories," said Ellzey. "Society is moving backwards with this issue; there are other things to joke about that aren't as serious as rape."

According to Ellzey, she was molested and raped as a child until she was 18, and later married into an abusive relationship lasting 11 years. She now spends a majority of her time advocating against rape through the Shafer Center.

Ellzey said Tosh's joke was more harmful than he may believe.

"Bruises will heal, but words stay forever," said Ellzey. "Tosh has no empathy toward women."

Ellzey will graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi with her bachelor's degree in social work in December. She plans to continue to share her story with victims, and encourages them to be strong throughout their struggles.

"I get up every day and still hear the abusive words from my parents," said Ellzey. "I constantly struggle with my past, but I learned to cope and use my situation to help others."

University of Southern Mississippi Human Rights Activists Group President Samantha Rayborn agrees with Ellzey's mission to spread the word against sexual assault.

"So rape is only funny when it isn't your mother or sister; is it still amusing when it is them?" asked Rayborn. "I think not. Sexual assault is definitely an issue I want to at least discussed with our group, because the South doesn't necessarily talk about these types of issues."

"The importance of this issue is to point out that all too often we joke about what isn't funny," Rayborn said. "By bringing this to the group, we can create a discussion of this issue on campus, and hopefully make a difference in how sexual assault is viewed."

Hattiesburg stand-up comedian Mercer Morrison believes the issue may have been taken too far.

"If you attend Tosh's show and do not expect something offensive to be said, then you are an idiot," Morrison said. "No topic should be off limits for a comedian; if that is the case, then comedians might as well not even do comedy."

Although Morrison does not agree with what Tosh said, he does defend the type of comedy Tosh delivers.

"There are different types of genres of comedy; if Tosh offends you then don't watch or listen to him," Morrison said. "There is no need to throw him under the bus for his type of comedy choice."

If you or someone you know need grief counseling in response to a sexual assault, counselors at the Shafer Center can be contacted at their hotline at 601-264-7777, which is toll free within 55 miles of Hattiesburg, MS.  Also, sexual assault victims can call 1-800-656-HOPE, and will be routed to the nearest rape crisis center.

Or, use one of these contacts, appropriately:

Business Line: 601-264-7078

Homicide Support Group Office: 601-584-0908

Laurel Office: 601-649-1721

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network): 1-800-656-HOPE