There are two new concerning buzzwords you may hear surrounding violence against women. One, argue many, is an excuse rapists use and the other is an alarming form of sexual assault.
Think of it as another tool in a perpetrator’s arsenal of ways they can justify assault. By coining the term “grey rape”—and it’s hard not to put that in quotes because, as domestic violence advocate Christina Voors says, “The term is bullsh*t”—some sexual assaulters claim victims have provided a grey area where the issue of consent is up in the air. Which may be why some are calling this dangerous term, “the new date rape.”
Cosmopolitan talked about grey rape back in 2007, referring to it as “sex that falls somewhere between consent and denial because often both parties are unsure of who wanted what.” This might include sex when one or both parties were drunk, or blaming a sexual assault on a woman because of what she was wearing or how she was acting. In fact, victim shaming seems to play a large part in its definition.
“Many experts feel that grey 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,” reads the article.
But Voors, who has been an advocate since 2010 helping survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking, says grey rape is a dangerous mistruth victims need to delete from their vocabulary.
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“I hear myths like this all the time. A victim who was raped by her husband and doesn’t think it’s actually rape. A woman who consented to foreplay, but not sex. To them, that feels ‘grey.’ But it’s not. Clearly, you have drawn the lines of what is OK and what is not.”
It should go without saying, but marrying someone is not agreeing to have sex with them whenever they want to. Being too drunk to consent means no consent has been given. And, affirmative consent should be asked for at every step of intimacy—not just the beginning.
Affirmative consent means asking for a “yes” instead of forging ahead until there’s a “no.” California passed a law in 2014 requiring college campuses to implement more comprehensive sexual assault policies, including a “yes means yes” provision, demanding initiators of sexual activity get a clear “yes” before proceeding.
Voors worries that if the term grey rape gains popularity, victims will find it much harder to speak out and get support for sexual assault. “This term can result in so many more layers of unnecessary questioning and blame, and can add more difficulty in getting a rape kit tested.”
This describes the act of a male partner removing the condom before or during sex without getting consent from his partner.
“I’ve had victims tell me about this happening. But they haven’t had proper terminology for it,” says Voors, who says it is “definitely a form of sexual assault.” But whether it’s one that’s illegal is still in debate. There is no legal statute defining stealthing, though the conversation is starting. Alexander Brodskey of Yale Law School published a paper in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law in April on stealthing, calling it “rape-adjacent” condom removal. In it, he argues a law is needed against stealthing “both to provide victims with a more viable cause of action and to reflect better the harms wrought by nonconsensual condom removal.”
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In May, Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-WI) was the first in the nation to propose a bill surrounding “stealth sexual assault.” Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of California introduced similar legislation near the end of May that would expand the state’s definition of rape to include stealthing, something she, herself, has been a victim of.
Across the pond, Switzerland is actively trying to make stealthing illegal. The Federal Supreme Court there recently ruled a 47-year-old man was guilty of rape after he began to have consensual sex with a woman and then removed the condom at some point during the act.
But … Why?
There are several reasons why someone might commit stealthing: it could be a form of reproductive coercion, or forcing someone to get pregnant as a means of control. Voors says stealthing can also be done purely for male intent, that is, for pleasure or in order to climax. It can be a way men feel like they’re exerting power and control over their partner. Both women and men (in same-sex relationships) can be victims. Whatever the reason, victims of stealthing experience the same after-effects as they would from rape.
“You’ve been entered in a way you did not consent to. Being betrayed in that way, violated, taken advantage of—that’s definitely not something you can just shake off,” says Voors. Not to mention, stealthing can have serious consequences, such as STDs, the fear of pregnancy and adverse mental effects as a result of the trauma.
If you’ve been a victim of stealthing or other sexual assault, don’t hesitate to reach out and talk to someone about it. You can find a trained domestic violence advocate by entering your ZIP code here, or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE.
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