DENVER — Rookie state Rep. Joe Salazar learned the hard way this week that speaking clumsily about rape — never mind just addressing one of the most devastating third rails of all political subjects — is a colossal mistake with the potential of sparking a media firestorm of national proportions.
But some Republicans, who have relished the opportunity to attack Democrats on an issue of importance to women, may be ignoring that lesson themselves in expressing their outrage, and their opinions on the subject of rape, in such a sarcastic tone.
As Salazar’s comment Friday night that women on college campuses don’t need guns to defend themselves from rape because they have “whistles and call boxes” went viral on Monday, up popped a new Twitter hash-tag, #LiberalTipsToAvoidRape, under which conservatives across the interweb offered their mockery of Salazar and unseemly and often uninformed ideas about rape itself.
Then on Wednesday, the group Larimer County Republican Women showed up at the Capitol offering lawmakers hand-made “Rape Defense Kits”, which included a whistle and ballpoint pen, an object Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Adams County, recently argued would be a better weapon to defend oneself than a gun.
Several GOP lawmakers posed for pictures with the women and their rape kits, pictures that quickly found their way onto Twitter and Facebook.
And, suddenly, Republicans are under fire for turning their outrage over an insensitive comment into, at times, equally insensitive farce.
“Nothing says, ‘We are the party that is really sensitive to the issues rape victims face” like “We are going to make a bunch of rape jokes now’,” wrote the Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri in a blistering blog post.
Some Colorado House Democrats declined to comment, noting that the response speaks for itself; others were blunt in their criticism.
“I do not find anything funny about rape,” Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, told FOX31 Denver.
On Twitter, progressive activists took aim at House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, who posed for a picture with the rape kit.
Alan Franklin of ProgressNow asked Waller on Twitter if “posing with [the] joke rape kit was really a good idea?”
Waller tweeted back: “No it’s not a joke. That’s why women should be able to defend themselves on college campuses.”
Franklin replied: “I’m surprised you don’t realize how bad your fake “rape defense kits” make you look. So much for the moral high ground.”
When FOX31 asked for a comment, Waller’s staff emphasized that the House Republicans didn’t coordinate Wednesday’s visit from the Larimer County Republican Women, and noted that they took photos with Democratic members too (although none have materialized as yet on Twitter or Facebook).
“Jokes about anything as traumatizing as rape should be condemned, but neither Democrats nor Republicans should be held accountable for everything said on the internet,” Waller told FOX31 Denver Wednesday.
In Waller’s view, the “rape defense kits” handed out at the Capitol weren’t making light of Salazar’s comment; to the contrary, he said, they were making a serious point.
“It’s preposterous to think a woman can safely defend herself from rape with only a whistle or a ballpoint pen, and it’s not inappropriate to point that out,” Waller continued.
“Rep. Salazar was wrong to suggest that a woman cannot rationally discern when she is or isn’t in danger of being raped, and the Democrats are wrong to suggest a woman should be able to defend herself with only a whistle or a ballpoint pen.”
Salazar, D-Thornton, has repeatedly apologized for his original statement, which he admits was “inartful” and “confusing”, and explained that he was trying to say that college students, regardless of gender, would create more chaos than they would prevent by having access to concealed weapons on campus.