Written by Danielle Paradis and cross-posted with permission from Fem2pt0.
Recently, in an article for the Good Men Project , I referred to “grey rape” a term popularized by Cosmopolitan in a 2007 article titled “The New Kind of Date Rape.” I continue to place scare quotes around the term because while it does the work of communicating the issue that I am trying to talk about, it is also a term that can lead to victim-blaming—and that is not something I ever want to do. “Grey rape” implies that rape occurs on a spectrum.
In order to discuss the problematic issue of rape being on a sliding scale, some key terms and ideas need to be identified and expanded upon. This idea of ‘grey rape’ is surrounded by context. The topic of rape is a big one, and a less than thorough examination of the topic does not do it justice.
What is rape culture?
Put simply, rape culture is the prevalence and minimization of sexual violence.
Dissenters of the existence of rape culture often cite the prevalence of falsely reported rapes, a topic that Nigel Hawks describes with great sensitivity in an article on StraightStatistics.org. He ends his article with the statement, “the statistics are so open to interpretation that what you believe they show depends very much on the preconceptions you start out with”.
RAINN statistics point to the prevalence of rape for Men, Women and Children in America:
1 out of every 6 American woman have been the victims of attempted or completed rape
1 out of every 33 American men have been the victims of attempted or completed rape
As to the existence of rape culture, it would appear to be obvious that it exists. Casual rape jokes proliferate on Facebook. There’s been a bright spotlight shone on the gang rapes in India, and there’s a never-ending reel of rape victims on the nightly news. Surely, these things hint that something is amiss in our society. The term “grey rape” is a mixture of assumptions that are framed around the perceived difficulty around responsibility and consent. A more recent article written by Elena Klaw, et al. (2005), explains the summation of a study which sought to further challenge rape culture.
The processes involved in developing rape consciousness appear parallel to those involved in the development of feminist identity. Awareness, or a cognitive realization about the pandemic of sexual violence, appears fundamental to the development of antirape attitudes and behaviors.
As expected, the emotional reactions that seem to accompany this awareness are often intense, ranging from helplessness and grief, to rage and empowerment. Social activism, an integral part of rape consciousness, appears to be premised upon a cognitive and emotional processing of the role of rape culture in daily life.
What are rape myths?
A study by Martha Burt found that many Americans believe troublesome misconceptions about rape—in her study they are called rape myths. These include the perceived level of promiscuity of the victim (i.e. she’s a slut), and the idea that if a girl engages in necking or petting and she lets things ‘get out of hand’ it is her own fault.
Additionally, attitudes towards rape are strongly connected to a cultural acceptance of interpersonal violence. In Burt’s study over half of respondents think that reported rapes may be because a woman is trying to get revenge on a man, or is trying to cover up an illegitimate pregnancy.
The study was written in 1980, and if it seems peculiar to cite a study that is older than the writer of this article, consider that the rape myths presented in the paper are still in the popular lexicon today. If anything, victim-blaming has increased by opponents who seek to disprove the existence of rape culture. The same type of people who claim intoxicated women avoid responsibility for their own actions by declaring rape.
What about false rape accusations?
Before even delving into this topic, a reader needs to understand that statistics in the social sciences are not like those in the hard sciences—they are often open to interpretation and the replicability of the studies is often impossible. This makes the research fall short of the standards of the scientific method. In addition, there is not one defined use of the phrase “false rape accusations” and so researchers are often using different criteria and thus counting different things. There is also a long-standing argument between researchers and criminal justice professionals on the instance of false rape charges.
There is a popular study used in websites that wish to raise concern over the prevalence of falsely reported rape charges. The study was written by Eugene Kanin and published in 1994. It was an examination of one small town said to have resources, such as a polygraph, available for use in all cases. The study found a riveting 41% of the cases were admitted false by the complainant. The trouble is the sample size was 109 people, and because Kanin was not able to release the name of the police force the data is not independently verified. Additionally David Lisak criticized the article as being less than a scientific study that lacked systemic methodology. Basically Lasik took issue with the fact that Kanin recorded a case as a false report when the police department notified him that a case had classified as such. Further, polygraph test on complainants (the victims of the cirem) could certainly be viewed as intimidation by the police department.
I’m not a statistician, and so my tendency in the exploration of this topic would be to go with statistics verified by professional organizations like the FBI, but again there are issues of classification. They name the “data unfounded rape accusation” which is not synonymous with “false rape allegation”. David Lasik’s study however, named the percentage of false rape reports at as 5.9% and added, “these results are consistent with those of other studies that have used similar methodologies to determine the prevalence of false rape reporting”.
Now, what is ‘grey rape’?
Recently, Richard Graham, a Tory MP came under fire for the same old song and dance about how to avoid rape. Telling a woman to avoid dressing slutty offers only false protection for women. Hijabi women too experience rape. This cultural inclination towards victim blaming is where my GMP article came under fair scrutiny. It is difficult to discuss the ways in which a person can try to keep themselves safe without falling into the trope of foisting the responsibility back onto the victim.
This victim-blaming is what surrounds the term ‘grey-rape’, and it perpetrates the idea that we do not live in a rape culture. The dominant counter-narrative is that women are attempting to foist responsibility of their sexual behaviours by crying rape.. The greyness suggests that there may be some sexual violence that is less bad or more permissible than other types.
That’s a lot of baggage…
Let me share a personal story to attempt to unpack some of the difficulties around the term ‘grey rape’, but please understand that it is not my intention with my own story to discredit the feelings or experiences of anyone else. At the age of seventeen, I was coerced into sex that I was not yet ready to have, due to what I perceived to be my “responsibility” in a relationship with my boyfriend. I don’t consider him a rapist because I didn’t say no, and I was not drunk.
Still, that didn’t prevent me from suffering from many of the same feelings (shame, anger, and self-blame) that rape victim’s encounter. Looking back, I wish we both had taken more time and care into the progression of our sexual relationship. That conversation came years later, and I hope he left with an understanding of the importance of obtaining enthusiastic consent. In sharing this story with others, I have found many ladies have similar experiences. Hopefully this experience may highlight to others that not only does yes mean yes, but women have the ability to say no.
I certainly don’t believe that is possible to accidentally rape someone. Yet in reality, I have experienced coercion and the fuzziness surrounding sexual activity while intoxicated.
The grey area I speak of seems to exist in our own moral context around sexual engagement. Under the eyes of the law, a grey area can’t exist. It must be stated that rape is sexual violence and it is always wrong. Consent has to be a binary black and white situation to avoid the possibility of causing great trauma to another human being. I don’t desire the hardline of sexual violence to take along with it people who are falsely accused, but this writer at least; can see no other path to equality than by clearing up the grey areas with the crystal clear concept of consent.
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