Words Hurt | Post 2
By Becky Owens Bullard
Words can hurt in so many different ways, but sometimes the unexpected, offensive joke can feel the most awful. While I love to laugh just as much as the next person, when jokes take that nasty turn from poking fun to causing true harm, I commonly feel my stomach turn and my blood pressure rise. While the point of this transformation from funny to upsetting may be a matter of opinion, for individuals who have survived abuse or dedicate their lives to advocate for survivors of abuse, the line is typically pretty clear: abuse is no joke.
Unfortunately, humor about abuse brought some recent attention to the Target store chain when it created a card that poked fun at the crime of stalking. The card read “Stalker is a harsh word” on the front cover, and inside the card stated “I prefer valentine.” Although Target responded positively to pressure to remove the card, the question still remains – why make a card like this in the first place?
While some may contend that this type of joke is innocuous, the fundamental concept of humor makes this a difficult reality to accept. Jokes like this one, published by one of the largest chain stores in the United States, are intended to be palatable to a wide audience, implying that society generally finds something comedic in a joke that is offensive to someone who has survived or is currently a victim of stalking. Consequently, the joke is not only offensive, it is also incredibly harmful. Humor that makes light of a very real, very terrifying crime like stalking often further isolates the victim/survivor by suggesting that people don’t understand that stalking is a violent and predatory crime and in fact, think it is something to laugh about.
Incidentally, this unfunny valentine surfaced on the heels of Stalking Awareness Month in January when advocates and survivors work to spread awareness about the crime and its serious nature. Stalking is a frightening crime, affecting 3.4 million people over the age of 18 in the U.S. each year according to the Stalking Resource Center. Moreover, stalking is often perpetrated by someone the individual knows, with 30% of stalking victims having been stalked by a current or previous intimate partner and 76% of intimate partner homicides committed by a perpetrator who stalked their partner beforehand. The pattern of pursuit and harassment carried out by stalkers is a severe form of psychological abuse that can increase in intensity over time and can become violent and extremely volatile. The effect this abuse has on stalking victims is extensive, from missed worked to forced relocation to severe mental health effects including anxiety and depression.
Too often, the above realities surrounding issues of abuse are disregarded and the golden rule of “think before you speak” is ignored in humor. Sadly, it takes serious consideration of the actuality of abuse for many people to understand that humor about a crime that affects millions of people each year just isn’t funny, and typically this awareness is an after-the-fact occurrence brought on by pressure from survivors and their advocates. While Target’s positive response is encouraging for those who speak out about words that hurt, the real victory would be living in a world where victims/survivors don’t have to fight to have their crime taken seriously and where a card like this one never comes into being.