Posted at 1:40 PM Mar 17, 2010

By Andrea Grimes


What's scarier than the phrase "Cosmo investigates?" I'll tell you: "grey-rape."

Alongside their beauty tips, Man Manual and fashion spreads, Cosmo is taking on "grey rape." What's grey-rape? It's a product of hook-up culture (natch, because rape didn't happen until feminists got all pissed off about it), and it's a special kind of rape that is only kind-of sort-of rape, because the rapist might have known the rapee, or something, and she was drunk, and, oh well, it's all so GREY.

The article is in Cosmo's "Tips and Moves" section, along with "The Secret To Getting Any Guy," "His Favorite Time To Have Sex" and "PDA Moves He's Actually Okay With." So, once you've figured out how to make every man on earth happy, you can learn what to do if one of them kind of accidentally rapes you!

Blah blah blah, here's the lede:

... And it's a surprisingly common occurrence. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 1 in 5 college women will be raped at some point during a five-year college career; that about 9 out of 10 times, the victim will know her assailant; and that half of all victims will not call what happened rape. Sixty-two percent of female rape victims in general say they were assaulted by someone they knew, which includes dates, acquaintances, and random hookups.

Many experts feel that gray rape is in fact often a consequence of today's hookup culture: lots of partying and flirting, plenty of alcohol, and ironically, the idea that women can be just as bold and adventurous about sex as men are. How can something so potentially empowering become so damaging? Cosmo investigates.

It goes on for six pages, waffling with phrases like "blurred boundaries," speculating that it's today's loose sexual mores that have caused "grey rape" to happen, as if every rape that occurred before 1995 was committed by scary monster-men who jumped out of the bushes and raped unsuspecting virgins who screamed bloody murder the entire time.

The obligatory "don't get drunk" advice is included in the article (because as we know, sober women are never raped), but finally, on the last page, Cosmo prints the only paragraph they should have run at all. It's the paragraph that disproves every preceding page wherein rape is maybe kind of sort of not happening but maybe kind of sort of happening ...

Under the law, a guy has to get a clear verbal or nonverbal yes from you to have sex. Just because you consent to one sexual activity (making out, even with few clothes on) does not mean you have given permission for any other. Also, silence doesn't always equal consent, nor does being too drunk to know what you're doing.
The reason these "grey rape" type articles are damaging is because they provide excuses for rapists and encourage victimized women to question their own sanity, decision-making skills, and self-worth. So please allow me to reiterate, to be more clear: There is no such thing as grey rape. If someone has sex with you without your consent, that is rape. If you are too intoxicated or impaired to consent, that is rape. If you say "no" quietly, that is rape. If you say "no" loudly, that is rape. Just because you do not say "no," that does not mean it was not rape. If you know the guy, but he has sex with you against your will, that is rape.


Nick said:

Good job, Andrea; glad you posted this.

Ruth said:

I am so glad that my college had a self-defense class + various workshops which taught the truth about rape. There were even workshops some of the guys put on for guys about no-means-no, always. I took the self-defense for one of my activity courses and not only was the teacher the woman who headed our Public Safety dept, but she also brought in assistant DAs to talk with us about legal definitions of rape. They never minced words, talked about the degrees of physical assault in legal terms, etc.

I'm not sure how good the college actually was about it, but after taking the class I felt confident that if I were raped I could go to the teacher in her Head of Public Safety role and she would take it seriously.

Just Visiting said:

I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you here. I personally do believe in "grey rape" and think it should be addressed. I'm not saying that we should use it as an excuse to blame victims; God no. I'm saying, as a culture, we need to be more aware of what the hell is going on around/to us.

Women, AND men, need to take responsibility for themselves. If a guys gets you drunk and has sex with you? Rape. If you go on a date and a make-out session goes to far without consent? Rape. If you didn't say a thing and let the guy think what he was doing was okay? Grey rape because your date sure thought it was okay. If you both get wasted at a party and the next morning neither of you recall the details? Not rape.

Aidan said:

In some states, like South Carolina, if one of the people involved is intoxicated at all it is rape.

BorgQueen said:

It's Cosmo. I'm not surprised by this article at all.

Susan said:

I think another problem is that these articles are always targeted toward women. What about articles directed at men advising them to be aware that if they are super super drunk, they should maybe refrain from doing it with a woman even if she seems into it because they might be raping her? Men have a responsibility to be aware of their own level of intoxication too.

Tasha said:

Goes both ways, too. I have a male friend who when passed out drunk at a party was taken advantage of. Also rape (and an unbelievably awful way to lose your virginity) Of course there were no charges filed against her, because, a woman CAN'T rape a man!

Awen said:

I agree that there is NO such thing as 'grey' rape. Rape is a rape is a rape, period. No means no, stop means no, and silence means no. This whole practice of blaming the victim needs to be abolished. If there is no legal consent, it is rape.

The only person responsible for a rape is the rapist.

Vick Tum said:

To echo Tasha's comment, this is not about the article but about the HORRIBLE graphic chosen for it.

I'm a male, and in young adulthood (i'm much older now) was raped by a female. I realize the vast majority of rapes are male on female crimes, and 2nd is probably male on male, but just because i'm in the minority doesn't mean it didn't happen and doesn't mean i'm not a victim.

You're graphic ("Men Can Stop Rape") is simply untrue, and is offensive. If i could have stopped mine, I certainly would have.

I don't mean to distract from the larger issue this article deals with, but in my (admittedly less common) case, the phrase "Men Can Stop Rape" rings as supremely victim blamey, because i couldn't, and am affected by it to this day.

Alix said:


This is an article on the author of the Cosmo story (Laura Sessions Stepp)'s book. Which is about as horrible as the article itself.

More horrible, actually. The book itself, not the article on it.

Vick again said:

oh, and i'd correct the "Under the law, a guy has to get a clear verbal or nonverbal yes" to "Under the law, both (all?) participating parties have to get a clear verbal or nonverbal yes". Yes, the article is geared towards female readership, but let's be clear.

Andrea said:

Noted, Vick Tum. I had a hard time finding an image to post with the article (tip: turn your safe search on when searching for "date rape" on google images), and I chose that one because it's actually a flier for a feminist alliance group at a college, though that's hard to make out from the small photo. Am happy to replace with something else.

Timothy said:

Rape is wrong bottom line, but that is RAPE, not this lame excuse that women are calling rape. I have slept with women while drunk that I wouldn't have slept with sober. Does that mean they raped me? No, it means we hooked up drunk. But these girls who regret it the next day and when encountered by their friends say things like "I don't know what happened, I was drunk." BOOM- got yourself a rapist. That is not fair. I was on a camping trip once where a girl had sex with me while I was nearly passed out. I remember bits and pieces and I don't recall saying stop. NOT one person did a thing though everyone knew I was hammered and she had one drink. Reverse roles and people would have been asking questions.

Josie said:

Timothy, I think Andrea would agree that what happened to you was rape. Although the article was geared toward the female population, the rules don't change based on gender. The fact that the majority of the population is not willing to call it rape is the problem she was trying to address.

I agree that we tend to focus on males raping females both because it is more common and because of the added victim-blaming due to the stigma surrounding female sexuality (she deserved it because she was drinking, wore "slutty" clothes, etc.). That does not mean, of course, that it isn't important to address other rape cases and the unique problems involved in them (the "you can't rape men" being a particularly problematic one of those).

What I meant to say by all of that was: just because it wasn't addressed in this particular article doesn't mean the author (and other feminists and women concerned about rape) thinks that it isn't rape if a man is the victim. It's just easy (whether it's right or wrong) to focus our rhetoric on the most common situation.

Ally said:

It is silly to suggest that guys who are very drunk are responsible for "raping" girls they have sex with who are also very drunk. Why should guys have to be more responsible for their level of intoxication than girls? Why, when a girl isn't sober enough to stop herself from having sex or even clearly express disinterest in doing so, should the guy be expected (in his same state of drunkeness) to be responsible enough to realize that the girl is drunk and just go home?

I thought you guys were all for EQUAL rights and NOT for double standards.

Andrea said:

Ally -

I fail to see here where anyone is arguing that all drunk sex=rape. We are arguing that having sex with someone without their consent is rape. You pretty much defined a state of non-consent with this statement: "... isn't sober enough to stop herself from having sex or even clearly express disinterest in doing so." If an individual of either sex, in any state of drunkenness, has sex with another individual in this state, that's rape. Where exactly is the double standard, there?

Seminymous Coward said:

What happens when two people incapable of consent have sex?
If that's too broad, what happens when two people too drunk to consent have sex?

Ally said:


I guess that my comment is directed at all the ladies who say that "not saying no" is the same thing as rape, provided the guy is drunk. One of the comments said that guys should realize that if they are drinking and the girl is drinking, she may be getting to a point where it could be rape, and so to avoid that, he should just not have sex and be responsible for his level of intoxication. I believe it was Susan's comment. Anyway, I just don't think it's fair to expect guys to be responsible enough to assess the situation, realize the female is too drunk, and decline sex when the girl herself is too drunk to even decline. Why should he have to be that responsible when she is not?

So I guess that I believe that if the girl is that drunk AND the guy is that drunk, maybe it IS grey rape (or actually not rape at all in my opinion) even if the girl wouldn't have wanted to do it sober and was too drunk to protest, so your whole suggestion that this article is without merit is pretty narrow-minded.

And finally, you said "If you are too intoxicated or impaired to consent, that is rape." There was no qualifying sentence, so yes, SOMEONE did say that all drunk sex is rape, provided you have reached the level of drunkenness I stated in my previous comment.

YCW said:

I remember reading your hilarious '10 Tweets My Vagina Would Twitter'; and taking what you have said here into consideration, I would just like to point out that technically, you have been raped Ms Grimes. Anal-raped in fact, if I understood No.5 on your list correctly.

I am not trying to be provocative for the sake of it here, but trying to point out that there seems to be a certain hypocrisy in the way you've presented the issues. On one hand, getting penetrated anally despite your protests is to be considered hilarious, yet you wish to highlight here, indubitably, that a lack of consent is considered rape and should be taken seriously, with no grey areas. Should you not then report that partner of yours? On principle alone, I think you should. I am interested to know if he will be prosecuted for that.

Andrea said:

I disagree heartily, YCW.

That the hypothetical tweet you speak of is in no way a rape joke or intended to be. There's a difference between thinking you probably won't like something and yet being willing to try it (being GGG, let's say)and then liking it. My vagina says "yessssssssssss," which is pretty much as explicit a consent to the act as you can get.

YCW said:

I am merely pointing out that your posts seem to contradict each other in essence; despite one obviously being written in humour. Surely you see the point I am trying to make? By your own definition, being penetrated despite any expression of 'no' is rape, cut and dried. In your tweet, 'no' was certainly quite clearly implied; and quite vocally at that in my opinion.

The fact that willingness/consent was granted afterwards has no bearing on the fact. If 'grey rape' should not have any doubts as to whether the rape happened nor offer any excuse for it, clearly willingness or a more forgiving attitude towards the incident AFTER rape (defined by yourself as sexual intercourse, without clear consent AT THE TIME IT OCCURRED) has happened is exactly what you are preaching against.

Andrea said:

YCW, you are seriously stretching. I said that when a sexual act is perpetrated without the consent and against the will of another person, that's rape. I really fail to see how someone saying, "I don't really want to do that, but you do, so let's talk about this, okay fine, I will try it," and in that same sex act, hell, within seconds or minutes, being like "Yes, this is totally awesome!" is anything close to rape. It's closer to a description of how consenting adults have fulfilling sex lives wherein they are GGG with their partners and try to satisfy them as much as possible within certain personal parameters.

Now, that's an awful lot to pack into a one-liner joke, and certainly an awful lot to pack into a 140 character tweet, but that is precisely the intention and I think anyone who isn't grasping at straws can see that. The only point I see you trying to make is your attempt to back me into some kind of grey rape corner, which I absolutely reject. Willingness/consent was not granted "afterwards" in that joke--it was granted during the act. Therefore: consent, therefore: not rape.

YCW said:

It is unfortunate you see it as my trying to back you into a corner. That was not my intention at all. For the record, I am not arguing against your sentiment against 'grey rape'. I am merely pointing out what, to me, seems to be two very contradicting posts of yours.

You being the author of the Tweet, and it being written in humour to begin with, means that your interpretation of it is the correct one. I have no doubt you MEANT it to convey everything you expressed above (you are the writer after all, yours is the last word on it). However, I must point out that to a casual observer like myself, that is not the message that is being conveyed. What I see is a pretty clear air of panic, and expression of unwillingness/non-consent, followed by penetration. To me, and according to your own definition of it, this is rape. What follows after (willingness/consent), has no bearing on it.

Your Tweet does NOT give the impression of 'not REALLY wanting to do it', but that you did not. It doesn't convey any sense of "let's talk about it", but that you had no say in the matter. And it definitely does NOT express any willingness or "OK fine, I will try it". Indeed, if those were the messages you were trying to get across, I'm afraid most people would have failed to recognise it based on what was writen in your Tweet. And by most people, I mean even people who aren't grasping at straws, as I clearly am.

I also disagree how you seem to believe willingness in retrospect, or even immediately after penetration, can be considered consent. As long as an expression of 'no' is voiced prior, and is followed by penetration despite that 'no', I would consider it rape. Never mind if you changed your mind a nanosecond into penetration; as long as consent was not granted beforehand, any consent granted during/after cannot reverse the fact. That would be my opinion, in any case.

If your Tweet was intended to say what you claim it was 'meant' to say, then I have no issue at all with that; mainly because your voice was heard and willingness granted before the act. However, having reread your Tweet a few times, I am afraid I disagree that is the message your Tweet conveys.

I'm sorry to have to spend so much effort expressing my view; but I thought it important to clarify how I would have reached the opinion I did.

สถานที่ท่องเที่ยว said:

Rape is wrong bottom line, but that is RAPE, not this lame excuse that women are calling rape. I have slept with women while drunk that I wouldn't have slept with sober. Does that mean they raped me? No, it means we hooked up drunk. But these girls who regret it the next day and when encountered by their friends say things like "I don't know what happened, I was drunk." BOOM- got yourself a rapist. That is not fair.

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