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50 Shades of Grey Imitation Trial Collapses Because of Rape Myths

16:02Ciaran McCormick

Trigger warning - discussion of rape, sexual assault and victim blaming

A judge in Chicago has recently ruled that is not enough evidence to pursue criminal charges against a man accused of raping a fellow student whilst imitating Fifty Shades of Grey. What is particularly worrying about the case is how the prosecutors and attorneys have perpetuated rape myths in their arguments. Mohammad Hossain is a 19 year old biology student at the University of Illinois and was accused of raping a classmate in his dormitory room in February. It was alleged that after they had watched and discussed the film, he bound her, gagged her to stop her crying out and raped her. She managed to escape and phone the police with the support of a friend. However, the case has collapsed under a lack of evidence and some concerning rape myths.

The book that inspired Hossain, who allegedly sexually assaulted a fellow student


In the reporting of the case from Chicago local press and the Washington Press, I noticed a worrying series of comments made by both the judge and Hossain's lawyer. The classmates had sex before and had became friends with benefits. But this is immaterial to the question of consent in this particular sexual encounter. Just because somebody has had sex before, whether it be casual, a friend with benefits or a partner, does not mean that consent extends to every possible future opportunity. That cannot be used as a justification.

Another problem was that it was alleged that she gave consent to sexual activity on the day in question at first. She testified that 'he asked me if I wanted to do something dangerous'. Her response was to say that 'it depends on what it is. He said, 'I won't tell you.' This may constitute consent at first and the court was told that she stripped down to her underwear and he tied her using belts. The graphic detail that trials like this have to expose is problematic. It pays no respect to the dignity and privacy of someone that has clearly undergone a traumatic experience. However, her testimony continued with further graphic details. She was hit with a belt several times but claimed not to say anything in response. This is not an example of consent tacitly given by not objecting to sex. Nonetheless, the woman said that she repeatedly used the words 'no', 'stop' and 'you're hurting me' as well as crying.

One of the biggest myths is that a woman must physically resist her attacker or she is judged to have been lying. The prosecutor asked the woman if she scratched or elbowed Hossain or screamed at any point during the alleged rape. She said that she did not resist in this way. However, this myth and accusation is based on sheer factual inaccuracies. One of the most common survival responses to sexual assault is to not resist and let the attack continue because of a fear for safety. The emotional trauma can be so devastating that fighting back is impossible for an immobilised body. This does not mean that the person has consented to sex with their attacker.

It is important to note that BDSM and the kinds of sexual activity included in Fifty Shades of Grey are not necessarily always the product of sexual assault. They can be perfectly legitimate, loving and consensual activities between partners looking to experiment. I cannot comment on the content of the actual book and film of Fifty Shades of Grey since I haven't watched or read them but critiques are easily accessible online. This case is far more complex than just what happened in the actual sexual encounter. It brings together a whole range of questions about consent and rape myths.


One of the most absurd and staggeringly unprofessional myths was brought up in this trial. According to the judge and attorney, a good person cannot have committed a crime like rape. Hossain’s attorney Sandra Bennewitz, told the judge that Hossain had been “involved with several UIC leadership programs, was a student ambassador to the alumni association and was on the triathlon team”. The judge responded by asking “Sandra, how can someone involved in all that let a movie persuade him to do something like this?” The implication is that the alleged attacker was a positive figure in his university community. This precludes him from raping a fellow student, which must mean that the sexual encounter was consensual and the suspicion falls on why the woman would report it as a rape. The reality of these events may not be discovered outside of the people that know them intimately, but these rape myths have no place in the judicial procedures that have the power to prosecute on alleged crimes.

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