So why do so few of these commentators appear to have the first clue what it actually is?

Hi there! Wasn’t the weekend lovely? So warm and sunny with just a light breeze on which you could hear the gentle whisper “Rape ... rape ... rape ...” Rape does seem to be in the air these days, what with the Republican party in the U.S., certain devotees of Julian Assange around the world, and lazy comedians in Edinburgh, all talking quite a lot about it without apparently having a clue what it is. So let’s clear things up. Welcome to Rape: The Idiot’s Primer.

It is testament to the determination of some folk to bend reality to their preferred viewpoint that there are so many intriguing words around these days for rape to make it seem, I don’t know, less rapey. Two years ago “sex by surprise”, nobody’s favourite pudding (“Would madam prefer the apple pie a la mode, the tiramisu or the sex by surprise?”), was the hot new coinage in reference to Assange but now there’s a whole slew in the mix.

The scientifically challenged Republican politician Todd Akin referred in a now-infamous interview to something called “legitimate rape” which, strangely, Akin seemed to use to refer to a particularly nasty rape because in those extreme circumstances “the female body has ways of shutting [their reproductive organs] down.” Now, leaving aside the question of how on earth a 65-year-old man with six children can be so clueless about female biology, this kind of differentiation between what’s a Proper Rape and what’s merely a Fake Rape is very popular in certain circles.

The term Akin was groping for was not the contradictory “legitimate rape” but the tautological “forcible rape”, the term employed in HR3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which Akin co-sponsored, to refer to rapes that involve the woman being violently assaulted, as those are the only rapes that count, apparently. So if you’re drugged and don’t put up a fight resulting in you getting a black eye, good news! Your rape didn’t count. Bad news! You won’t get help paying for an abortion — not that you’ll need one, mind, because pregnancies through rape don’t happen, of course.

Eventually, the term was dropped from the bill — which then passed — but it just so happens that Akin’s co-sponsor on that measure was current GOP VP nominee Paul Ryan. Akin later apologised for having “misspoke” about “legitimate rape” but the truth is all he had done was articulate the ignorance and misogyny rife in his party, as well as the even more common belief that some rapes count and some are acts sluts bring upon themselves.

It’s not just politicians. Whoopi Goldberg once said Roman Polanski hadn’t committed “rape-rape” back in 1977, although seeing that a 13-year-old child told how he drugged and sodomised her, I’d hate to know what Ms Goldberg considers actual rape.

This week the British Member of Parliament George Galloway took to his video blog, Good Night with George Galloway, to defend Assange, insisting what he is accused of “isn’t rape” (it is), that all he is guilty of is “bad sexual etiquette”.

This is just a little reminder to all of the Assange fans out there that Assange is not being charged for anything to do with WikiLeaks. Despite what he insinuated in his Evita-like balcony speech on Sunday from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, Assange is dodging rape accusations from two women. Not WikiLeaks. Women. Same first letter. Different things. Also, while you can — contrary to other certain beliefs — become pregnant if you are raped, you cannot become pregnant from WikiLeaks. Just to clarify. Next!

Every year in Britain, 400,000 women are sexually assaulted. More hard figures: 99.99 per cent of all rape jokes aren’t funny (we’ll get to the .01 per cent that are in a tick); 100 per cent of attention-seeking, imagination-deficient comedians will make at least one rape joke in their lives. Numbers are fun! As Tanya Gold recently wrote in the London-based Guardian, rape jokes are quite la mode de la saison up at the Edinburgh festival right now, but they have never been out of fashion on comedy circuits. The reliably unfunny “comedian” Daniel Tosh got in a bit of trouble earlier this summer for making one at the expense of an audience member (“Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now?”) and the only amazing thing about that incident was that he was reprimanded for it.

If edgy comedy is supposed to provide an enlightening perspective on a horrible aspect of life then nearly all rape jokes fail, not least because they are often at the expense of the rape victim. The only funny rape-ish joke I’ve ever heard was from U.S. comedian John Mulaney, who mused on how women see him as a threat late at night, “and it’s weird because, like, I’m still afraid of being kidnapped”. I find that more enlightening and funnier than Jimmy Carr’s “What do nine out of 10 people enjoy? A gang rape.” It also — unlike anything said by Akin, Ryan, Galloway, Carr or Assange’s fans — shows awareness of the victim as opposed to focusing on the alleged (or, in this case, imagined) attacker. That’s how you talk about rape, see? You remember that the victim is an actual person.

Man, can you imagine the hilarity that would ensue if Carr and Galloway were ever to share a room? I honestly think my reproductive organs just shut down. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012

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