No room for joking around rape


Every now and again a radio show will make a joke that is in bad taste. It might be about someone’s sexual orientation or gender, and generally made as a cheap shot with little prior thought. The joke will most likely be fairly quickly forgotten and for the radio station everything will be back to normal a short while later. The people who made the joke might get a telling off, but they will probably not face an further disciplinary action – formal or otherwise.

But what about when the joke is about something hugely personal in the worst possible way, such as a criminal offence against your body, your being? It is a whole different world then as the radio station that involved the Prime Minister in a joke about rape has found out.Although it appears that Prime Minister John Key will not be removed as an ambassador to White Ribbon New Zealand, the widespread public anger suggests that quite rightly the joke has fallen flat. When it causes a backlash that is lasting for days and is gaining widespread media attention, the vast bulk of which is highly negative, clearly it is a joke that:

  • is in extremely poor taste
  • is quite possibly in breach of broadcasting standards – I would be very surprised if someone has not laid a formal complaint
  • raises serious questions about the ethics of the station that broadcasted the joke

The incident reminds me of an infamous one on Australian radio a couple of years ago where two show hosts, Mel Greig and Michael Christian took it upon themselves to ring the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was going to have baby Prince George delivered. They tricked the duty nurse into thinking that they were Queen Elizabeth II and Prince William of Wales, so as to receive information about the pregnancy. In that incident which gained worldwide exposure, there were tragic consequences. The  duty nurse committed suicide two days after the prank and both hosts lost their jobs.

Whilst hopefully being an isolated incident rather than the start of a new norm, the rape comments that were made by the New Zealand radio station also unfortunately show how much work we have to do as a nation before people realize there is no room for jokes about rape. The public take a very dim view of them and it is wholly understandable that victims of such appalling offences are angry and hurt by them, as it gives them the feeling of having to relive the original trauma.

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