“Grey Area” Rape

This is an article I found through a website called Pandora’s Aquarium (http://www.pandys.org/), which is kind of an online support group for survivors of sexual assault and their friends and family.

“Grey area rape

It is a widely held belief that you get ‘real rapes’ and then those that fall into the ‘grey area’. The idea of grey area rape is bourn out of the way that society has constructed rape – as a violent act carried out by a stranger. This understanding of rape has been built around rape supportive myths and does not reflect the experiences of survivors.

If there can be a half-rape or a grey-rape then it follows that it must be possible to give half-consent. The idea that there is grey area consent however clearly makes no sense. Either someone has consented – willingly and actively without coercion– or they have not. If a person freely and willingly wants to have sex with someone then it is clear. If it is not clear, then that person does not have consent – there is no grey area.

There are many factors that people use to define a grey-area rape such as being drunk, flirting, being in a relationship with the perpetrator, not fighting enough or not fighting at all. However there is no such things as a ‘rapeable offence’ – being drunk/dressed in a certain way/doing a certain job/being intimate with a person/alone with a person/having slept with them before does not make rape inevitable or acceptable. Rape is not defined by the behaviour of the victim but by the actions of the perpetrator. A person either consented to sexual activity or they did not and if they did not then this is rape – there is no ‘grey’ about it.

Male or female, stranger or partner, date or acquaintance, child or adult, drunk or sober – it is all serious and it is all traumatic. If you have experienced any form of unwanted sexual contact then you have been sexually assaulted and you deserve to be here and you deserve to heal.

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6 thoughts on ““Grey Area” Rape

  1. I am disappointed by this post because all you really do throughout the article is restate your premise. Imagine I am a person who believes there is such a thing as grey area rape. How the hell is this supposed to convince me otherwise? Yes, the legal definition of rape and sexual assault is pretty damn rigid, but our cultural understanding of these terms is a lot more hazy. What you just did is repeat the legal definition which completely misses the point.

    The way you argue is just inflammatory: you are not giving the other side any kind of respect: in the second to last paragraph you say that there are many factors people use to define grey-area rape such drunkenness, flirting e.t.c. but right after that you immediately jump to the term “rapeeable offense” which is a whole different issue! The difference between rapeable offense and grey-area is humongous! The one suggests that straight up violent rape is permissible sometimes, the second suggests that the issue of consent is not as straightforward as we would like it to be. While the first is clearly insane the second merits more discussion, I think, or at the very least a bit more of a respectful tone.

    I think it is articles like these that make dialogue on these issues so hard. We need to deflate the rhetoric a bit. I honestly want to talk more about consent issues and the gap between how we perceive consent and how the law defines it but as long as I get grouped into the “she was asking for it” group without a lot of explanation as to why I feel like I’ll never get clearer on the issues.

    • Oh hold up, I messed up here assuming the poster wrote the article. My bad that was stupid. My problems with the article still stand though.

    • Joost, I think you missed the point of this post. The point is to reassure survivors that what they’re feeling about a traumatic experience is real and justified, no matter what they feel comfortable labeling the experience, and even if they have internalized society’s message that what happened to them is not “real” rape. As is mentioned at the very beginning, this is from a support group-type website.

      That aside, I don’t actually understand what your criticism is. What is “the other side” that is not being given respect? The side of the person who participates in sexual activity with someone who does not want what is happening to them, who hasn’t actively and freely given their consent? And the article actually says there is no such a thing as a “rapeable offense,” hence the use of quotes to point out the irony, nor “grey rapes” or “real” rapes for that matter. That’s because all rape is real. And like the article says, if you have experienced any form of unwanted sexual contact then you have been sexually assaulted. (That is most certainly not the legal definition.)

      This article is not suggesting that consent is not straightforward, nor does it focus on legal definitions at any point. And it absolutely does not suggest that ANY form of sexual assault is permissible ANY time. If you are a person who believes there is such a thing as “grey” rape, then that means you do not understand consent. If you are the one who was touched (I’m using “touched” to stand in for “being the target of any sexual act”) in any sexual way even though you did not want to be touched, it is fine to label the experience however you want, because you are the one who deserves to heal in any way you want, choose, and/or are able to. However, if you are the one who touched another person in any sexual way without getting consent (hint: being drunk/dressed in a certain way/doing a certain job/being intimate with a person/alone with a person/having slept with them before does not constitute legitimate consent), then you have sexually assaulted someone. I do not understand why you were so upset by this article, Joost. Do you need to re-read it a couple times?

      • Alright, let me first say that as I stated above I misread the article as having been written by one of our fellow HC students (which admittedly is quite stupid), so I probably should have toned down the rhetoric MYSELF a tad.

        Second of all, I must admit I misread the rest of the article quite terribly as well. I am still trying to understand as to HOW I did so, but as I re-read the article again I still can’t shake the strange feeling that there is something wrong with how this is all is phrased. I would definitely agree that if you are touched (using your above terminology) and you did not want that to happen then that is sexual assault without question.

        The problem is when alcohol gets involved and memories start to fade, that’s when stuff starts to get fairly “grey-ish”. In that sense grey areas pop up, and speaking as a guy who experienced the hook-up culture the thought of all drunk my hook ups retroactively being seen as sexual assaults scares me a bit. Now I know that this is a. not the purpose of this article to label people as sexual assaulters and b. might not be even an implication of this article (certainly would be interested in hearing more about that) but that apparently did not stop me from making the jump in my mind myself. (Hence my accusation that this not respect the “other parties”, namely us guys drunkenly hooking up while trying to not sexually assault anyone).

        I am sorry though if this did come over as disrespectful to survivors. God knows by senior year I’ll have run out of fingers to count all the ones I personally know so I am highly aware of how big an issue this is. I’m just trying to make sense of this all, so I’d like to thank you, above poster, for helping me do that.

    • As a Haverford grad, it’s weird reading back all of the comments I made back here, two years late,r and realizing what a collosal idiot I was. Thankfully, my time at Haverford has made me a lot wiser about these kind of issues, and I am thankful to groups like ASC for all the work they did to educate fools like me.

  2. Thanks for posting this! The end really resonates with me – at first, I was reluctant to reach out for help, go to SOAR, and start being able to heal because I thought that I wasn’t a “real” survivor and that what happened to me wasn’t “real” assault because it was a “gray area.” These thoughts made me feel horribly guilty for feeling as shitty as I did about what had happened, which just added another layer of hurt. I’ve realized from talking to other survivors that these harmful thoughts are actually very common, because we’ve been falsely taught that only certain extreme situations qualify as assault/rape. So this article really validates the experience of so many people who might feel traumatized and hurt by something that happened to them, but who might be reluctant to call it assault and reach out for support because it wasn’t as black-and-white as some cases are. So I echo that last paragraph to anyone out there at Haverford who’s struggling with something that happened: If you have experienced any form of unwanted sexual contact, then you can decide what to call it or not call it for yourself (and it’s okay to call it sexual assault), and you are welcome in SOAR and you deserve to heal.

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