A gray area: Students encounter gray rape

Editor’s note: This story was written and reported by Bryn Lansdowne and the following students from last semester’s special topics in journalism class: Mariam Alkazemi, Sarah Belanger, Brian Calvary, Sacha Evans, Sarah Halzack, Anthony Moniello, Christiana Samuels, Jessica Smith, Andrew White and Emily Zeigenfus.

Senior James Daley woke up one morning naked and drunk in an unfamiliar apartment with condoms strewn about the room. A girl next to him rolled over and introduced herself.

“My first thought was, where am I?” Daley said. “My second was that I have to get out of here as fast as possible.”

A friend filled Daley in about how he met the girl later that day.

“I guess she bought me a lot of drinks that night,” Daley said. “And then when a friend tried to take me home she said ‘no, I think I’ll take him home.'”

Daley said he felt taken advantage of and would not have hooked up with her if he had not been so drunk.

Was this rape? Sexual assault?

According to GW’s Code of Conduct, it could be. The code states that a person must give clear or verbal consent to another in order to partake in legal sexual activity. Factors such as alcohol or drug consumption, the relationship between those involved in intercourse and general circumstances are all taken into consideration when someone reports a rape at GW.

In the District a similar standard applies, where rape is considered any type of vaginal penetration without consent, or a verbalized “yes.”

Yet many students such as Daley consider such encounters a part of college life, however unfortunate they may sometimes be. Advocacy groups have begun calling situations where consent or denial is unclear “gray rape.” Students say it occurs every weekend in places including dorm rooms, bars and fraternity houses.

The actual prevalence of rape and sexual assault on college campuses is subject to debate. A widely cited 1982 National Institute of Mental Health survey found that one in four women experience an attempted or completed rape in college. More recently, the Department of Justice put the figure at one in 14, with most incidents occurring at victims’ on-campus homes and with someone they know – typically a classmate, ex-boyfriend or friend. Acquaintance rape accounts for about 80 percent of sexual assault cases, as reported by the Department of Justice.

Though males deal with rape too, cases such as Daley’s are far less frequent, accounting for fewer than 10 percent of all cases.

“I think that we have always inflicted sexual violence on those who have less power,” Laura Kasper, a postdoctoral clinical fellow in psychology, wrote in an e-mail.

Kasper said that victims report only one in 10 rapes.

“I also urge you to remember that rape is still highly underreported, so even the stats you have or find don’t reflect the true data on how often it is happening,” Kasper said.

Indeed, Justice officials estimated that between 60 and 75 percent of rapes go unreported. And nearly half of college women who are legally raped do not classify their experiences as sexual assault.

Kasper said it will take more than cultural awareness to reduce violently sexual acts.

“It’s important to remember that the legal system is very unfriendly to survivors, so until that system changes I think we will continue to see fewer rapes reported than are actually happening,” Kasper said.

But many male students say that certain acts of denial can appear playful. “Sometimes I’ll feel like a girl isn’t sure, but then she’ll say ‘yes,’ and I’ll think she’s just being coy,” said Jameel Ali, a senior at Georgetown University. “If you regret it, or she regrets it, does that make it assault?”

Senior Tracy Greenwood* had an experience with confusion like this.

“A friend of mine came over to my house drunk and kept trying to grab me and kiss me,” Greenwood said. “After a while I had to threaten to call the cops to get him to leave.”

According to findings in a recent issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism, about 10 percent of women report being sexually assaulted during their first year at college. Alcohol was involved at least 50 percent of the time. Data collected by Howard University suggests a gender difference, saying that three out of four men, and one in two women, are intoxicated during a sexual assault.

Nicole Jordan* learned the risks of excessive drinking her sophomore year at Howard. One night at a party she was raped and forced to perform oral sex on multiple young men. She said she was so drunk that she fell in and out of consciousness and was unable to defend herself or say “no.” She remembers trying in vain to throw punches as the men climbed on top of her.

“I hate it when people say, ‘Just fight him off’,” she said. “In some cases you can sober up, but I was so far gone I couldn’t.”

Jordan felt ashamed and uncertain the next morning, violated but unable to remember the specifics. A few weeks later she decided to take action. After weeks of talking to Howard Student Services, counselors, campus and municipal authorities, she dropped the charges due to lack of evidence.

Colby Bruno, attorney for the Victim Rights Law Center, an organization that provides legal services to victims of sexual assault, said such cases are difficult to prosecute.

“Usually there is some consensual activity,” she said. “And so, the jury needs to figure out if consent was ever withdrawn, at what point, and whether or not it was clear.”

*Name has been changed

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