This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 16 table of contents.

Date Rape

In the late 1980s, a new term entered the vocabulary of college students in the United States: date rape. This is what happens when a male forces sex on a female he is dating, usually in the mistaken belief she has "asked for it" or "wants it." Research shows that men who are prone to dating violence and rape are remarkably poor at interpreting a woman's true attitudes and feelings, especially on a first date. They see what they want to see. A friendly conversation or an offer of a ride home may be interpreted as an invitation to have sex.

How can a man not realize he is raping a woman? As one psychologist put it, some males act as if they believe, "Good Girls do not say Yes, and Real Men do not take No for an answer." So a girl is expected to protest, and a man is expected to go ahead anyway. Not all men adopt this attitude, but the ones who think this way are the ones most likely to commit rape.

What is "acquaintance rape"? How do statistics show differing perceptions by men and women?

As evidence of differing perceptions by men and women, consider these statistics. A study of women at 32 campuses showed that 15% said they had been raped, and 89% of the time it was by somebody they knew. That meant about 13% of all the women had experienced acquaintance rape—rape by someone they knew beforehand. Meanwhile, a survey of 1,152 male college students showed that only 1.4% admitted to forcing sex on a woman when she protested or said she did not want to. That meant women are about ten times as likely as men to say they have participated in a situation they interpreted as rape. Clearly men are not seeing themselves as rapists on many occasions when women feel they have been raped. (Goleman, 1989)

What is the "gray rape" concept?

Cosmopoliton magazine created a mini-controversy in 2007 by publishing an article about so-called gray rape. This is essentially date rape that occurs when the female participant (typically a college student or similar young female in her 20s) is intoxicated and never intended to have sex, but emerges out of a drug-induced fog (after willingly participating in some kissing or other pre-sexual activity) to find that her male companion is having sex with her. She realizes she does not want this to happen and "is left feeling violated and confused and angry." ("Do you want to share your story?" August 30, 2007)

The concept was greeted immediately with scorn and derision from feminist bloggers who said any sex without consent is rape, whether or not there is a "gray area" caused by intoxication. Other bloggers were suspicious of the concept because the author of the Cosmopoliton article (Laura Sessions Stepp) had previously written a book called Unhooked that was critical of the "hooking up" culture of the 2000s, in which young people engage in sex without obligation. Some bloggers saw the article as an extension of (and advertisement for) the author's moralistic criticisms of the hooking-up culture.

Whether or not "gray rape" proves to be a useful concept, the controversy drew attention to a simple fact. In almost every case in which a woman's ability to consent to sex is later called into question, alcohol is involved. Just as alcohol is a leading risk factor for AIDS, it is a leading risk factor for date rape.


Write to Dr. Dewey at psywww@gmail.com.

Don't see what you need? Psych Web has over 1,000 pages, so it may be elsewhere on the site. Do a site-specific Google search using the box below.

Custom Search

Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey