'Gray' Rape

Cosmo’s got an article out about ‘gray’ rape – basically alcohol-induced date rape, or non-violent rape by a male friend. It’s sort of nauseating, and seems to be prompted by a) not wanting to label oneself a victim for life (‘I was raped’), and 2) not wanting to take the time/effort/risk of pressing charges, especially if they have to see the guy at parties or on campus (‘He’s a rapist’).

This has never happened to me, but it has to friends (especially non-consensual sex or anal sex with boyfriends or lovers) and I understand their mixed feelings, to a point. But I’m not sure refusing to call oneself a ‘rape victim’ is helping men understand that they shouldn’t be violating women’s bodies. And refusing to be associatede with emotionally-scarred victims won’t help people understand that regular women just like them have been assaulted and managed to go on with their lives, untainted and unbroken (like some molestation victims, who can shrug off childhood experiences, usually non-violent or brief ones, and would never label themselves victims. But are they going to let ‘Uncle’ Charlie babysit their own kids?). The article definitely isn’t helping change the myth that ‘real’ rape happens in dark alleys and is perpetrated by strange, ugly men with knives.

Here’s the story from the editor of Jezebel (the site I linked to):

There are about a dozen more like it in the comments section. Any thoughts? Any personal or friend-of-a-friend stories? Sometimes the oversealousness of dopers in threads about false rape accusations sort of depresses me (I know it exists, and just because there may be 10 date rapes for every one false claim doesn’t make it right).

I spent a lot of time wondering if I could use the words “rape” or “molested” to describe what happened to me, mostly because I wasn’t always an emotional wreck. Finally my rapist called me up to apologize for what he had done, and he was absolutely flabbergasted that I wasn’t sure it was rape. “Um, yeah. I did it, I raped you. And I’m sorry.” He kept saying, over and over again until it finally sunk in. Yes, it was rape, because I didn’t want to and I said no and I tried to get away. The fact that he’d sometimes do things to me when I was asleep that felt good to my body didn’t mean I gave him consent (and when I woke up, I’d push him away.) The fact that he was my step-brother didn’t mean it was “kids being kids”. I said no, he had sex with me, therefore it was rape. Period. People can use ropes and knives to restrain you, or alcohol and drugs, or guilt and shame. *Any *restraint or coercion (uh, of the non-consensual kind, of course) means that the sex which follows is rape.

And yes, I agree that those who are trying to use another label are trying to avoid the stigma - perhaps the self-stigma - of being “victims”. And I also agree that this does a disservice to all victims, especially those who think that there’s something wrong with them because they aren’t a wreck, and it does a disservice to these men, who may think they’re not rapists, and the women those men later interact with, who may be similarly raped and not okay with it.

This post has been Grayped by the Graypist

I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist. It was just sitting there.

That was beautiful.

I dunno, I think calling a specific kind of rape anything other than rape does a disservice to the victim. But I agree with WhyNot that identifying as a victim of sexual assault carries with it the implication that you are screwed up beyond belief or broken or destroyed forever, or something. Which is, of course, bullshit. Nobody else really has the right to decide for you, what your experiences are supposed to mean to you. A part of the problem these women might have with admitting they are ‘‘rape victims’’ is that there is a whole cultural association and expectation loaded within those words. Their experiences, in a way, then belong to society. Assumptions are made, usually along the lines of things people have read in books or movies. Maybe there is something wrong with the victim for not being too worked up about it, because heaven forbid a woman not be permanently altered because of a rape. Obviously she is in denial or ‘‘minimizing’’ if she just for the love of god wants to get on with her life.

Re: The Dope’s attitude, there are false sexual assault claims and there are real sexual assault claims, and the real victims often get shit for stuff idiot liars do. I didn’t realize how prevalent false rape claims were until I started hanging out on the Dope–it is pretty shocking someone would just lie about something like that; apparently it happens.

But my point is, why would we approach any issue any less critically just because it has to do with rape? I personally find no fault in assuming innocence until someone is proven guilty… it’s sort of the law. This issue in general raises a broader concern for me, about the way rape cases have to be handled with kid gloves. Why? Is there some implication here that raped women are fragile, helpless creatures and they can’t take a little healthy skepticism?

I feel like the whole culture surrounding rape and sexual abuse sets women up to be perpetual victims. It’s incredibly easy to buy into when you are hurting, but ultimately it will get the best of you, and can render you incapable of rational thought. I say this not to judge anyone else but as a criticism of my own experiences and how humiliatingly helpless and oversensitive I became just because it seemed to be expected of me.

Sure, it’s painful when people are skeptical about shit you went through personally, but so are a hell of a lot of other life experiences. Life is pretty much about learning how to deal with those experiences and grow from them. Just because it might strike a personal chord with me in no way makes me wish people were any less skeptical of court-related rape allegations on this board. There is a big difference between knowing you experienced something and being able to prove it in a court of law. And it SHOULD be that way.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s because, uniquely with rape and domestic violence cases, the presumption of innocence (of the alleged attacker) often translates into the presumption that the alleged victim is lying. In other words, if I’m assuming the man is innocent, which western justice says I should, then why would that woman be making those accusations? Either she is mistaken, or she is lying, or something.

What if a man is found not guilty of rape accusations? Does that mean the rape didn’t take place? If so, that means she was lying for sure! right?

I think this strategy (discrediting the accuser) is very common in courtrooms, and it’s certainly very common in popular culture.

I just don’t see any way to reconcile these, and I don’t think that this justice system (an adversarial one based on the presumption of innocence) is appropriate in these sorts of cases. I can’t imagine what would be gained by throwing the weight of the justice system into some of these “gray rapes.” Even if I were to admit to myself that I had in fact been raped by an acquaintance under ambiguous circumstances, I would not necessarily want the “offender” prosecuted and jailed.

My question: what is gained by strictly calling all cases of non-consensual sex (even those in which the “victim” does not feel “raped”) “rape”?


I’ve been hearing the term “survivor of rape” a lot more lately. My friend, who is one, prefers it because it lets you get past a “victim” status but still recognize what happened to you and how it can still affect your life, even in small ways.

By calling it what it is, in simple terms that everyone can understand, it makes it harder to excuse.

One person’s “grey rape” may be another person’s “there-ain’t-nothing-grey-at-all-about-this rape”. Non-consensual sex is rape, regardless of whether the victim feels victimized afterwards. So it’s more about calling a duck a duck instead attaching some mollifying adjectives to it.

Exactly. Why are we looking to invent words that imply that having sex with a woman against her will can be kind of okay, sometimes?

Because it reassures other people who have been through similar experiences that their reaction - whatever it is - is okay. Normal, even. There have been at least two Dopers whom I have shared my experience with who expressed great relief that their lack-of-messed-upedness, to coin an ugly phrase, was shared by me in my experiences. (I won’t say who because I won’t “out” anyone, but if they want to share, I’m fine with them talking about my part of the exchange.) What helped me was getting out there the fact that what messed me up most was the pressure I got to “admit” I was psychologically damaged by what happened. The social pressure to act out sexually and emotionally for years because of my rape was far more damaging than the rapes themselves.

Get raped and wind up crying in bio class for the next two semesters? Fine and normal.

Get raped and wind up sleeping with half the campus in an attempt to reclaim your body as your own? Well, kinda unwise, but still normal.

Get raped and wind up cowering in the corner screaming when your husband strokes your shoulder one evening? Yeah, normal.

Get raped and remain friends with your attacker? Well, yeah, that happens too.

Get raped and not ever think about it again and go on to live a perfectly normal sexual life? Well, yeah, that’s normal too.

Get raped and experience some combination of all of the above? Whoo-boy, that’s probably the most common and normal reaction of all!

No one should beat themselves up over their reaction to nonconsensual sex. No one should be bullied by their mothers or their therapists or their friends or their classmates telling them how they “must feel”. And if we had a wider pool of women claiming the same label and reporting vastly different experiences, then the girl who wonders if she’s crazy might not make herself crazy figuring it out.

“Nonconsensual sex” is such an ugly phrase that my spellchecker doesn’t even recognize it. Rape is simple and clear and already in our vocabulary. I might ask instead what benefit there is to obfuscation of a clearly recognized term to further divide us?

Was that one of the comments on the Cosmo article, or did this really happen to you? :eek:

I think that “non-consensual sex” covers a lot of experience that doesn’t necessarily require prosecution. After all, intoxication vacates consent. So any sex would then be “non-consensual.”

That’s just crap. I’ve had plenty of utterly shitfaced sex, which there is absolutely no question that I consented to.

I’ve never for a moment *wondered * whether or not I consented to anything. I’m equally certain that no one *else * has ever been unsure of my consent or lack thereof.

I may have thought to myself later “Gee, I wish I hadn’t done that”, but that doesn’t retroactively remove my consent. Regret is not rape. If IN THE MOMENT you said no, or were truly incapable of saying yes (by which I mean barely or unconscious, not simply impaired), then you were raped. If IN THE MOMENT you said yes, then you consented. This is not a difficult concept.

And like I said before, I don’t see any reason to go inventing words that imply that if you have sex with an unconcious person, “that’s bad and all, but it’s not like you *raped * her”.

Exactly, exactly, exactly. Very eloquent and accurate response, WhyNot.

While I have never been raped, I have been sexually abused, and this applies there as well. It’s pretty much an unwritten rule of sexual abuse survivorship that you have to be completely emotionally devastated if you’ve been sexually abused, and there’s some common thread such as ‘‘guilt’’ or ‘‘shame’’ or ‘‘distinterest in sex’’ that MUST be present or else, by golly, you’re just in denial.

Let me give you a really good example of what I’m talking about.

I’m currently in couple’s therapy with my husband to address my abuse history and the way it affects our relationship. I thought, for a long time, that the only problem I had with sex was my PTSD and the possibility of it being triggered and the fallout from that.

But more recently, it occurred to me that sometimes it’s not PTSD at all-- I just don’t feel attractive, it’s a self-image thing that most women, abused or not, probably face.

I tell this to my therapist and she comes up with this elaborate idea that I don’t want to feel pretty because being pretty in the past led to me being sexually abused blah blah blah.

As if she can’t comprehend that maybe it’s really because I have self-image issues that have absolutely nothing to do with being abused. I want to talk about how to improve my self-image and she wants me to dredge up old feelings and emotions that have no bearing on my current life.

That’s what I’m talking about. And if you hear it enough times from enough therapists, you begin to believe maybe you really ARE in denial, you begin to feel this pressure to grieve and act in a certain way to meet everyone’s expectations. This goes triple if nobody ever really DID believe you, and then it’s like, well maybe if I have all the right symptoms According to the Prophesy then my family will believe. And I got so far as the hospital before it really dawned on me that the only person I was screwing was myself.

It’s stupid and counter-productive if you ask me. To imply that all women are going to feel the same way about rape is to imply that there is some special quality (besides a vagina) that renders all women alike. It’s some weird kind of misogyny.

Upon reading your second post to this thread, I retract my question. I’m sorry to hear that. You have a good handle on it, I think, and thank you for sharing and helping those with similar circumstances.

Okay, then the corrolary to my original question is: what does “rape” mean?

The reason for my concern (i.e. about what is gained) is because (as noted) “rape” has many connotations which simply don’t apply in every case of non-consensual sex (such as all of those WhyNot listed).

If “being raped” automatically means “being victimized/traumatized/slutty/whatever,” then of course people aren’t going to want to use the term about themselves. So there are two courses of action: one, define “rape” as “any nonconsensual sex” and remove from it all associated connotations of victimhood (which it seems to me is what you all favour); two, use more flexibility in terms around “sexual assault” that can reflect the vast diversity of ways people experience it.

Seeing as the concept is so extremely difficult to define (see below), I would prefer a little more flexibility. Calling all non-consensual sex unequivocally “rape” bugs me for the same reason that zero-tolerance policies bug me. Also I don’t think it’s likely that we’ll be able to strip all those negative connotations of automatic victimization, no matter how much we might like to.

On the flexibility of the definition:

Respectfully, WhyNot, the definition of “rape” is far from simple and clear.

For instance in Canada “rape” is not actually in the Criminal Code anywhere (the relevant crime is “sexual assault”). The only time I ever hear the word is either in describing a violent and clearly non-consensual act (i.e. not “gray” as defined above), or among Americans (usually on this board). In my head, sexual assault carries many different flavours, and when I hear the word “rape” I stop to ask for clarification before coming to any conclusions. I have trouble using the same word to describe a violent and prolonged kidnapping and gang-bang (for example) and that time I had sex with my boyfriend when I didn’t really want to but was too tired to make a big deal about it. I guess I can’t see the point of using the same word to describe both situations.

I also shake my head in wonderment when I read discussions about “rape” depending on “penetration” and, in any given situation, whether and how penetration occurred (and therefore whether a rape did). I think rape is certainly possible with no penetration, but as I understand it, that is not reflected in the US law definition.

We lose power of language when we use words imprecisely. I think using “rape” to describe “any act of non-consensual sex” is a powerfully political thing to do, and as a general rule I’m very much in favour of defining words for political purposes in such a way. However, in this case, I think the dangers (of enabling a diversity of situations to be misrepresented in the worst possible way) outweigh the benefits.

You mean, he nicely and politely ignored your protests and forced himself onto you? Or he didn’t deck you first?


Rape seems to me to be an act of violence by it’s very nature. YMMV, of course.

And you should, because that is **not ** nonconsensual. If we’re concerned with using words precisely, then we should agree that “nonconsensual” does not mean “begrudgingly” or “without enthusiasm”.

Oh I fully agree. Who was it that thought the whole matter could be cleared up if only rape was defined as ‘assault with a blunt object’?

I’m sure some rapes are more violent and/or traumatic than others, but, well, so are some muggings, and a person may become perpetually paranoid after one or simply go on about their life. Some murders are execution-style, others include prolonged torture. And these facts are taken into account during sentencing, as they should be.

This is a very, very fuzzy line, and one that often changes upon the sober light of day.

Let us not nitpick examples. I am sure you could come up with one that would lie closer to what you consider to be the line between rape and not rape. Wherever that line is, it will be very fuzzy and subjective and extremely difficult to prove in a court of law or public opinion, and often in the mind of the involved parties. There is no line you could draw that would result in a group of objective “rapists” on one side and “not rapists” on the other. That is why I am arguing that the term is not clear and unambiguous, and should allow for more nuance.

I am coming at this from a perspective of public policy (i.e. how to prosecute crimes of sexual assault) and I am not at all comfortable with basing public policy on terms which simply cannot be defined at the margins.