Gray Rape: Why it Doesn’t Exist
We all know that rape is sexual assault — more specifically nonconsensual sexual intercourse. There is absolutely no debating that. However, a Cosmopolitan article from 2007 titled “A New Kind of Date Rape” gained a considerable amount of traction after it was published. This article discusses the notion of “gray rape,” which it defines as “sex that falls somewhere between consent and denial.”
According to the article, an example of “gray rape” is as follows:
“Alicia had asked another student, Kevin, to be her ‘platonic date’ at a college sorority formal. The two of them went out for dinner first with friends and then to the dance. She remembers that they got drunk but not what she would call sloppy wasted. After the dance, they went to Kevin's room and, eventually, started making out. She told him flat out that she didn't want it to proceed to sex, and he said okay. But in a few minutes, he had pushed her down on the couch and positioned himself on top of her. ‘No. Stop,’ she said softly — too softly, she later told herself. When he ignored her and entered her anyway, she tensed up and tried to go numb until it was over. He fell asleep afterward, and she left for her dorm, ‘having this dirty feeling of not knowing what to do or who to tell or whether it was my fault.’ While it felt like rape to her — she had not wanted to have sex with Kevin — she was not sure if that's what anyone else would call it.”
Although casual sex is nothing to be ashamed of, consent is unquestionably mandatory from both parties. In the above story, Alicia had explicitly disclosed that she did not wish to engage in sexual intercourse. Before the assault happened, she had even told Kevin to stop. Alicia made it clear that she did not want to have sex with Kevin; somehow, he did not — or chose not to — understand the message. The lack of consent should have been enough to cause Kevin to stop, yet it was not.
In reality, this scenario is not a depiction of “gray rape” — it is downright rape.
The term “gray rape” is extremely problematic; it perpetuates victim-blaming, as it insinuates that the victim could have taken preventative measures. This term also implies that rape occurs on a spectrum, which is simply not the case. If someone, like Alicia, is told that their assault is “gray rape” — that it falls somewhere within a gray area — they may not consider what has happened to be rape. Given that a victim does not understand the full extent of their assault, it may make it more difficult for them to process and heal from such an event. Additionally, referring to rape as “gray rape” sends the message that the rapist has not necessarily done anything wrong.
This is something that should never be conveyed to a rape victim. Statistics show that 94 percent of women who have been raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, 33 percent contemplate suicide, and 13 percent attempt suicide. If a victim of rape has been told that their assault does not fall within the definition of rape, they may be less likely to seek help, and may end up as yet another unfortunate statistic.
Articles that utilize the term “gray rape” are a hindrance to the healing process of rape victims. Instead of throwing harmful language around, we need to encourage victims to seek help if need be. The last thing we want to be telling someone who has experienced such a tragedy is that they are at fault for their own attack. There is no, and will never be, a gray area — the only person to blame is the rapist.
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