Stereotypes of what rape looks like hurt the victims

The idea that sexual assault has to ‘look' a certain way for it to be considered a rap is hurting the victims

The term “grey rape” is often used to describe non-stereotypical rapes, according to ConsentEd, an online site that promotes awareness of sexual consent. This often happens in acquaintance assaults, such as those occurring on dates, when alcohol is involved, or when the victim has consented to some sexual acts, but not others.

People often think that rape ‘looks’ a certain way, and there is a commonly held belief that a rape involves a person (a woman or a man) being attacked by a stranger in a dark alley, and that they have to react a certain way before, during and even after the rape. Other misconceptions are that the victim had been dressed a certain way or had been drunk, and therefore invited the assault.

“All of these myths act as barriers to people accessing support, whether they want to report the rape or not,” says Sarah Strydom, the Communications Co-ordinator at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust: “This is because the myths somehow make it seem as though it is the survivors who are at fault,” she explains.

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In life, things are rarely black and white, and when it comes to rape, things can get complicated, says Strydom. “This is especially true when a situation arises in which both parties have been drinking or maybe the person gave their consent initially, but then halfway through, they changed their mind. The truth is that a person has the right to say no at any time, regardless of what was agreed to before,” she says.

A prior relationship between two people does not mean that consent can be assumed, says Strydom, even if the two people had sexual contact before.

“People talk about overt consent and often say that you must verbally agree all the time, but in real life people use many methods to coerce others into sexual acts. For example, a wife who is economically dependent on her husband may not be giving free consent because she needs to ensure she can take care of her children.”

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An incorrect prescription of what determines a “proper rape” is common, even among school children. Questions of whether the woman had been drinking, was dressed a certain way or had been in a dodgy environment are dangerous.

“These beliefs are so widely held in our communities. We have just been doing work in schools and a lot of the boys feel that it is absolutely true that if a woman or girl wants to dress in a short skirt then a man is entitled to ‘have’ her,” she says.

The danger then, says Strydom, is that shame, fear and misconceptions and a weak justice system will prevent victims from laying charges or even accessing medical interventions like Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), a short-term antiretroviral treatment to reduce the likelihood of HIV infection after potential exposure, to prevent HIV infection.

If you need assistance  you can call the Rape Crisis Centre on their  24 hour crisis line:021 447 9762

Additional reporting: ConsentEd