Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Gray Rape - A New Form of Rape? Or a Way of Holding Men Less Accountable?

Ever heard of the term "GRAY RAPE?"

Prompted by a controversial COSMOPOLITAN magazine article published in September (read it here) investigating what is believed to be a new form of date rape, Cosmopolitan hosted a dialogue at NYC’s John Jay College last week to discuss the impact and meaningfulness of “sex that falls somewhere between consent and denial.”

Neil Irvin, National Director of Men Can Stop Rape’s Men of Strength Club, and other panelists strongly refuted the notion of "gray rape." In attendance was Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief as well as the writer of the article, Laura Sessions Stepp, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Washington Post.

Read Stepp’s article, "A New Kind of Date Rape" before viewing coverage of the panel discussion from the New York Times blog City Room and the Metro, which includes quotes from Neil Irvin’s primary violence prevention-based perspective.

We believe "gray rape" lessens men’s accountability while pointing the finger even more strongly at women. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section...


Men Can Stop Rape offers a PSA series and Strength Trainings/Workshops that focus on CONSENT during possible alcohol and drug intoxication. Reach young men with our highly affordable posters, banners and postcards and paradigm-shifting workshop discussions. ORDER OUR PSA MATERIALS OR SERVICES TODAY! Share


  1. Anonymous12:32 PM

    This is extremely frustrating. In several of the stories that were listed as examples of "gray rape" the survivior clearly stated "NO," often times in MORE THAN ONE occassion. She said no, he continued--THIS IS RAPE. No question about it. What this new "gray rape" is doing is just creating excuses for offenders. No means No. That's it. She said, she means NO, even if she said yes before, even if she's drunk. It means NO. Why are we still having this discussion in 2007?

  2. Anonymous10:55 AM

    I'm thinking that (as the post above mentions) the examples in Cosmopolitan are clearly examples of rape. I also am QUITE hesitant to believe "gray rape" EVER exists, and I am offended even by the term -- to use the word "rape" as part of a term that means "not rape" is absurd and, I think, an unconscious strategy of self-perpetuation in a violent misogynist culture.

    If you look at the NYT Blog's comments, you see that a lot of the people posting have employed a similar and perhaps even more insidious strategy: many of the people posting attempt to overcompensate for and exonerate their belief in "gray rape," by writing something along the lines of "no means no." Subsequently almost all of them qualify this "no" with a modifier like "unequivocal," or "saying no after saying yes." They cite things like personal responsibility and "not falling back on victimhood"... These are the same old justifications being used in the same old debate, but with a new name.

    I absolutely think that some people - whether they are male, female or some other gender - do repetitively participate in self-destructive behavior such as binge drinking, heavy drug use, setting foot inside a fraternity house, et cetera. These people need psychological help. THAT DOES NOT MEAN, however, that ANY of these behaviors occur outside of a society dominated by masculine values. Just look at the differences between the sex advice articles in Cosmo and Maxim. Cosmo tells women that their pleasure should come from "pleasing their man," while Maxim tells men that women derive pleasure from being dominated. I do not argue for a sterilization of sexuality in which we do not feel pleasure when our partner does, or in which there is no possibility for healthy, consensual domination/subordination-play. I mean to say that THESE ARE THE ONLY MAIN STREAM MESSAGES OUT THERE REGARDING HETEROSEXUALITY. This is where the confusion begins. When men say that women act in confusing ways, it is because, as it turns out, they are not the women from the magazine. They have important things to say, and men have been so shut down by cultural messages that they do not even know how to hear what is coming out of a woman's mouth. There needs to be a reconditioning for men. And because the original conditioning clearly teaches men not to listen to women, this reconditioning needs to be initiated by other men who DO listen to and learn from women.

    This does not mean that "until we live in a perfect society" men need to be "protecting" women by watching over them all night every night. What it does mean is that men need to PROTECT EACH OTHER. Before we go out, we need to talk about these kinds of things with one another. We need to stop praising one another based on how many women we get into bed. We need to tell each other about the violence done against women, and we need to talk about women as though they are human beings - and whether a human being is sexy is just one small aspect of that discussion. Just as it is suggested that women have a "buddy system," so that none of them gets hurt that night, I believe men should have a buddy system as well, so that we don't go out and hurt women.

    So to return to the original point, the debate over "gray rape" seems to me like a distraction. Of course sexuality is a gray area. People have consensual sex in all different ways - no couple or group of people will engage in sexual acts in the same way as any other. It is one thing to acknowledge that, and quite another to use this strange misleading term "gray rape" to steer the debate away from how to hold men accountable for sexual assault. Assault happens constantly, and everybody knows it. One of the things that feminism teaches us here is not the common misconception that "sex is evil," but rather that sex can be SO MUCH BETTER if we all take a step back, take a deep breath, and think about the terms we are using to alienate one another.

  3. Anonymous12:23 PM

    This is sick!
    Another way of excusing
    the problem of rape!

  4. Carolyn11:34 AM

    As far as the law is concerned "no means no" and alcohol consumption does impair someone's ability to consent to sex.

    I'm having a hard time seeing how this is a gray area.

  5. Anonymous4:03 AM

    It is not clear to me if this artilce is supposed to be news or maybe it is just news to the writer. This in NOTHING NEW! This is the oldest play in the male book. If a date is platonic, how does petting get started? Women need to be smart about the situations that they walk into. You can get injured as much where you walk in as where you get dragged in. If you do not want sex, do not be a part of starting it. Use your head. You do not owe a boy anything after a date. Maybe if you want platonic you need either understanding and acceptance from the boy... or a girlfriend to go out with.

  6. Anonymous5:21 PM

    this is absolutely nothing new, but it's still something worth talking about. though i think the term "gray rape" is cheesy and stupid, if not just plain harmful, and that the instances in the cosmo article were clearly rape, there is still something that needs to be discussed.

    even in discussion of rape myths, even among feminists, the tricky issue of substance use and its role in acquaintance rape is often glossed over or oversimplified. literature may state that a ton of date rape happens when one or both parties are drunk, but the focus quickly shifts to talking about "date rape drugs" and how it's important to make sure you know where you drink is coming from.

    but what if there was no date rape drug? what if you just got drunk off your ass? what if you wanted to fool around, but didn't want to have sex? what if you go to someone's bed, you're drunk, they're drunk, and you say no, but it happens anyway? this is not simple. because, yes, it is rape. you said no. but what if this is not a male-female relationship? what if this is a female-on-female or male-on-male, or even a female-on-male assault, and both parties are drunk. then is it rape? well, by the same logic, yes, but it gets very tricky.

    the fact is that cultural messages about sex and sexuality are as confusing as ever. women and men are encouraged to have sex and lots of it, and even stigmatized if they don't. people want to have sex, sure, but they also want to prove that they can, and the combined pressures of sexual needs and social desire to feel normal lead way too many people to seek out random sexual situations without thinking too hard about it. alcohol helps people feel less inhibited and so people rely on it, and young women are relying on it more and more, to loosen them up and make it easier not to think too hard. and men do the same thing, loosening their inhibitions, and they're also told to be sexually aggressive. women are encouraged to be sexually aggressive too these days, but still play hard to get, and not to be too easy, and so many conflicting messages it boggles the mind.

    so you put a couple of people who are maybe interested in sex, tell them that their ability to attract and get a sexual or romantic partner is a huge part of their value as a human being, give them mismatching and contradictory messages about what normal sexual behavior is and what they as a man or woman should do in a sexual situation, and then get them really drunk, and the result is inevitably...kind of gray. and it's so, so common, and so, so damaging.

  7. Any man who has sexual relations with a woman knows, deep in his heart, whether he has coerced her or not, whether she has consented or not, whether she has relented or not, whether he has pressured her or not, whether he has threatened her or not, whether he has assaulted her or not. Any man who says he was confused or not sure is prevaricating. There is no gray area about it.

    Spend some time talking with men in court-ordered batterer intervention programs. Almost every one of them has sexually assaulted his female partner, under the influence or not. Being drunk is a disinhibitor, not an excuse or an explanation. Neither party is having "consensual" sex when he or she is drunk. But every batterer will tell you that they knew exactly what they were doing. The fact that they are batterers, of course, makes drunken sex just as non-consensual as sober sex.

    Keith Edwards from Men Ending Rape, in answering a question about how to answer student questions whether there is consent when two people are both drunk and have sex, put it this way on the Men Against Violence (Yahoo Group listserve):

    "First, I go with making them laugh. First of all this is a great hypothetical but not very realistic. We think two drunk people have sex all the time, but in reality we know better. Then I generally make some jokes about how two drunk people rarely have sex - they usually get in fights, vomit, get lost, fall asleep, or physiological affects of alcohol get in the way. College students in particular will readily agree with this once you give them the examples.
    -But it is a serious question and so I will answer it seriously. The answer generally is yes, it is rape. It is the responsibility of whoever initiates the next level of intimacy to be sure that one has informed affirmative consent at every step of the way. In our culture most often men are the ones initiating the next level of sexual activity. I don't know about you, but when I am drunk I have a hard time knowing how drunk I am let alone how drunk other people are - let alone if they are in a conditional where their consent is "informed" and therefore has legal standing.
    -This often seem as though we would hold the man accountable for his actions, but not the woman - which sounds unfair. But this is easier to understand in another context. I usually pick a very large and athletic male student and have him stand up. I say, let's assume Brian and I are really drunk. And I walk up to Brian and say, "I really want to punch you in the face." And Brian being drunk says, "That would be awesome." And then I hit him. The next day when Brian comes to find me can I just say, "Hey I was drunk I am not responsible for my decisions"? No, because I initiated hitting him I am responsible. This also works with drunk driving. If Brian and I are both really drunk and we leave the bar and I get in my car and hit him walking home because I am drunk, can I say, "Hey I was drunk you can't hold me responsible."? No, of course not.

    So this is easier to understand in context outside sex because the rape culture has generally taught men that getting a woman drunk is a great way to get consent - which it isn't."

  8. Anonymous11:12 PM

    I don't see how people can say no or otherwise show that they don't want sex, and then not be sure if it was rape. It's a fairly simple definition and the level of protesting from the victim has nothing to do with it; you either said no or you didn't. While I do believe there are times when there's a gray area around consent, the examples in the article clearly state that the victim didn't want to have sex. It's rape, black and white.

  9. Anonymous3:06 AM

    This may seem unrealistic or even unfair, but considering the fact that we have a lot of very dangerous people in our society these days I would suggest not going to someone's home/flat/apartment with them unless you were pretty sure of who you are with.
    we teach kids stranger danger and then we lower our own self protective behaviour by plying ourselves with alcohol or drugs and blindly go back to his/her place to 'look at family photo's'. No does mean no, I would never dispute that, but why trust someone we've only just met and go with them to where they feel most comfortable? It's all well and good to be able to have short term casual sex but I think 'safe sex' should include more that comdoms and the pill. Don't get me wrong I am not saying that anyone who does these things are in the wrong at all but I think we just have to be so careful in who we trust.
    someone asked why are we still having this conversation in 2007 well bewcause more and more people are being raped and we have to do everything we can to stop it.

  10. We posted about this on our website (
    and actually received a lot of very surprising comments. Our take was that the term is offensive - that sex without consent is rape, no question. We were quite shocked to receive comment after comment from women who'd been raped, and were furious with us for saying that the term "grey rape" was bullshit.

    These women had read Cosmo magazine article and actually taken comfort from it. Their take was that the term "grey rape" gave a name to their experience and in that sense validated it - that they had been afraid to say they'd been raped, because they circumstances were murky, but that the term "grey rape" gave them an actual concept which proved that they had been through a horrible ordeal.

    While the term "grey rape" still makes me uncomfortable and I would never use it, it really gave me food for thought that some rape survivors actually found it empowering.

  11. "Gray rape" is not new. It has been happening for years. My Partner was raped in much the same way back in 1995. It was DEFINITELY rape in my opinion. It may be hard to prove in a court of law, but that is another thing altogether. My Partner's situation was similar to many of the situations in the article. She clearly said "NO," but it was ignored.

    To say that this so called "gray rape" comes from a new social situation where women are becoming more sexually assertive is blaming the victim - pure and simple. Sometimes using the right to say "yes" does NOT negate times when "NO" is/was the answer.

    "Gray rape" is simply a new term for something that has been going on for a long time.

    "Gray Rape" is NOT the result of women's new found sexual assertiveness. If anything, it is the result of (sometimes) poor/vague communication, and and an unwillingness/refusal to "hear" anything other than the answer that the perp wants to hear.

  12. How did we let alcohol blur any lines in the law regarding rape?

    If someone consents to sex while drunk that should be good enough for all of us, if you wan’a f#*dge then f#*dge.

    If someone is drunk and says no, no means no and it is rape if that "no" is ignored regardless of what may or may not have occurred prior to the rape.

    When someone wakes up after a hard night's partying understanding full well that they did consent to sex but regrets it, IMO, it is not rape; it is however very difficult to prove in a courtroom when regret leads to lies.

    Alcohol only blurs memory but not the actions; it makes prosecution more difficult in cases where rape occurs as well as the defense when no rape occurs.

    It is a tough world and we have an imperfect judicial system, mind your actions and look after your friends.

    Any given night whereever a group of bars exist muggers lurk around the corners waiting to prey upon drunken victims. Muggers love drunks because they know the cops wont listen to their drunken victims stories so those muggers have a better chance of getting away with their violent crimes. No one asks to be mugged, but we shouldn't shut down bars or make it illegal to be drunk because people get mugged more frequently when they are drunk or because the crimes are harder to prosecute when the victims were known to have been drinking.

    Difficulty in prosecuting a crime doesn't change the crime. A rapist is a rapist, drunken victim or sober victim. A mugger is a mugger, drunken victim or sober victim. A rapist or mugger is still a criminal regardless of the amount of time they’ll serve (if any) for their crimes.

    It has been my observation that when a violent attacker stabs someone outside a bar and the cops are called -- the cops don’t respond and ambulances are not dispatched even in NW DC. I know it is a crying shame and off topic but it has been on my mind.

    Making drunken sex illegal is BS.

  13. Anonymous4:53 PM

    "All of these complicated scenarios are made even more so by drinking, which is almost always part of the mix. Heavy drinking is a major factor in sexual assaults, and young women’s drinking habits have risen almost to the level of men’s. This makes them more vulnerable to guys who are pushing for sex."

    This article constantly comes back to the idea that because women are now drinking almost as heavily as men this scenario is to be expected. It often suggests that women should curb their drinking habits if they don't want to be raped. Not once does the article discuss male drinking habits and whether or not they should be curtailed. It also doesn't bring up the most disturbing point; why can't men and women drink heavily together without sexual violence occurring?

  14. Anonymous2:09 PM

    What do you do with the drunk woman who hits on a man in a bar, has a few drinks with him and then SHE begins kissing on him? He kisses her back but goes no further. Later that night, she in a drunken stuper, leaves the bar with another man who she later claims raped her. She has saliva DNA evidence on her neck from man number one and DNA evidence from man number two in other areas. Man number one is arrested because they are able to match his DNA and his life is now ruined as he sits in jail awaiting a trial for a claim made by a drunk woman in a bar. Where are this man's rights? Who is truly to say she was raped by man number two? Wake up people......women get drunk and its obvious that alcohol impairs memory and judgement, so why should men have to pay for these dumb alcoholic women's claims of rape? I am a woman and I am not dumb enough to drink to the point of loss of that kind of judgement, I think its time we admit, these women SHOULD have to accept that it is their fault if they drank too much and quit making excuses for them and going after innocent men.

  15. Thanks for your response to my comment.

    First of all, she is not claiming that man #1 raped her, but rather that it was Man #2. So, regardless of what the police "find" (and they would have to link that saliva to the stranger at the bar --Man #1 to charge him anyway), she is telling the police it WAS NOT Man #1. So I am not worried about Man #1.

    How you can ask that we blame rape on a woman because she drinks too much is beyond me. That girl in Richmond, CA drank but she didn't deserve what happened to her because she drank, nor was she asking for it because she drank, not was she giving permission to any one of those young men to rape her because she drank. In fact, she could not even imagine that going over those those young men would result in two hours of sexual brutalization. Holding her responsible for her own rape is reprehensible, but worse it attempts to focus accountability and responsibility on the victim instead of on the perpetrator, the man (or men) who choose to rape.

    While I would never invalidate any man's right to claim innocence against a charge of rape, if we start from your assumption that women are "going after innocent men" and that any woman who was drinking when she was raped deserved it anyway and her claim of rape is invalid, then it's not hard to understand how stacked the deck is against women who are raped and go to authorities about it. Along with so many other reasons women don't report rape, precisely these kinds of prejudices and stereotypes about rape contribute to the difficulty of women reporting.

    And trying to plant the idea that there are alot of false claims of rape (all those "innocent men")is simply ignorant of the real world. Working in both domestic and sexual violence areas (actually taking hotline calls and going to court with women and girls as an advocate), I have seen how incredibly difficult and traumatic it is for women and girls to come forward with claims of abuse or violence against them of any kind -- physical, sexual,psychological, economic or emotional.

    Finally, it's hard for me to know whether you really are a woman given that you write here anonymously.