How Joking About Abuse Hurts Victims of Domestic Violence 

The comedian Matt Rife made a joke about domestic violence in the opening moments of his Netflix special titled Natural Selection. He mentions going to a restaurant with a friend in Baltimore and being greeted by a woman with a black eye. As Rife notes, “it was pretty obvious what happened [to her eye],” implying that she was a victim of physical violence.


When his friend wonders why the woman is working as a hostess and not in the kitchen where no one can see her, Rife replies: “yeah, but I feel like if she could cook, she wouldn’t have that black eye.” Ever since the special was released, the internet itself has been rife with discussions about the nature of jokes. Choruses of “Can’t you take a joke?” “Why are you so sensitive?” “It’s just a joke, it isn’t hurting anyone” fill the comment section of social media platforms.


But joking about abuse does hurt victims of domestic violence.


While viewing jokes in this capacity may be difficult because you can’t see any direct harm, the consequences could be deadly. In Rife’s joke, direct blame is placed onto the victim for causing the violence that she endured. It implies that if she became a better cook, then her partner would stop assaulting her – potentially reaffirming her belief that she deserves the abuse.


For a person who isn’t experiencing abuse, this may be difficult to understand. They may be able to easily write off Rife’s comments as “just a joke” but it’s more difficult for a person living with domestic violence. They may already doubt their own perceptions of reality because of the abuse they are experiencing.


Their partners may have already isolated they from their support system, minimized the abuse they experience, and dismantled their self-esteem. For these reasons, victims are already predisposed to believe that they are responsible for abuse. Jokes that then place blame onto the victim make it harder for them to recognize that they are not at fault, especially when an entire audience is laughing at their experience.


These jokes are not harmless. They could prevent victims from leaving their abusive partners and keep them in the cycle of violence for longer.


If you are experiencing abuse, know that it is not justifiable or acceptable. Abuse is never okay and JBWS is here to help. Call our 24-Hour Helpline at 1.877.782.2873