Myth: Grey rape

Have you ever heard the term “grey rape?” As in, “Well it’s not like they were really raped; it was just a grey rape.”

Unfortunately, “grey rape” has become a fairly common term used to describe non-stereotypical sexual assaults. Whereas “real rape” often refers to stranger assaults or ones with high levels of physical violence, “grey rape” usually refers to acquaintance assaults, for example assaults occurring on dates, when alcohol is involved, or when the survivor has consented to some sexual acts, but not others.

This term gained fame in a 2007 Cosmopolitan magazine article, “The New Kind of Date Rape You Must Know About” by Laura Sessions Stepp. The article defined grey rape as “sex that falls somewhere between consent and denial and is even more confusing than date rape because often both parties are unsure of who wanted what.” But it’s not just Cosmo.

There are lots of ideas out there that seem to imply that some forms of sexual assault are less serious or even trivial.

For example:

  • If you’re sexually assaulted by someone you were dating, it’s not as bad.  I mean, the rest of your night was pretty good, right?
  • I don’t get why you’re that upset, he was cute and you know you had a crush on him!
  • Well at least he didn’t go all the way- it could’ve been way worse!
  • If you’re too drunk to remember, then does it really count as a sexual assault?

The term “grey rape” has a lot of troublesome ideas behind it. Firstly it promotes the miscommunication myth that sexual assault can sometimes be an “accident,” when in reality, it is always a deliberate act of violence. It also perpetuates the idea that there is a grey area where a person may be partially consenting on some level. However, as recognized by Canadian law, consent or lack thereof is really clear and intuitive.

Then there’s the absurd notion that sexual violence is “less bad” in some cases. For example, this myth also suggests that it’s not quite sexual assault if you say “no” when you’re drunk, or “no” after making out first, or “no” on a date. Failing to acknowledge these acts as sexual assault actively excuses perpetrators from any responsibility over what they have done. Ultimately, the impact of this myth is that it may lead survivors to feel an incredible amount of blame and confusion, and may make them less likely to reach out for support.

We know that there is no grey area of consent, and that sexual violence, in any of its forms, is always wrong and always a crime.