How the United States Treats Marital Rape

Updated on September 4, 2019
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Hollies and Health is an author who enjoys writing about life, love, and books. She enjoys watching anime and munching on burgers.

Marital Rape Law in California

Rape, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is a type of non-consensual, sexual assault. This can apply to situations where the victim is a minor, unconscious, deceived, threatened, has a mental illness or deficiency, etc. And while many courts have often acknowledged that "no means no," many victims have had to undergo victim-shaming, where the victim will often be interrogated regarding what they were doing, what they were wearing, etc. This is especially true if the victim is female. Despite this, rape laws have generally gotten better over the past centuries, due to the advent of Feminism and human rights advocacy.

But what if rape happens in the context of a marriage? After all, we all have our own beliefs, some by religion, others by culture. And if it does happen, how do we respond?



What is Marital Rape?

Just like the title says, marital rape is rape within a marriage.

That's it.

The definition of rape still applies, despite it being within the marriage. But while marital rape has been outlawed in all 50 states, there are times when these laws fail us. Many officials carry certain assumptions and biases that directly affect their judgement. This includes when a person is married to another that they love, and the person is expected to give the other sex. How can you be raped when you're supposed to have sex with them?

This assumption can be seen in a number of laws. For example, according to the Daily Beast, 8 states still have laws differentiating general rape and marital rape, some of which even carry exemptions under certain situations. A local newspaper from Ohio had even stated that a victim "isn't protected from attacks involving rape drugs and other types of impairment when the perpetrator is her spouse." In Oklahoma, marital rape has to be shown that the case can only be considered rape if the victim was violently coerced. If intercourse occurs while the victim is sleeping, it can also be considered rape, as long as the perpetrator isn't the victim's spouse.

There are other powerful figures that also support the idea that you can't rape your spouse. Donald Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, had blatantly stated that, "You cannot rape your spouse." In fact, according to Huffington Post, he had only recently learned that marital rape was illegal in the United States. A recent law in Ohio that would make marital rape illegal for husbands to "drug and rape their wives" had no supporters in the Republican party. In 2002, Dick Black, a Virginia delegate, had said that he wouldn't know how anyone "could validly get a conviction in a husband-wife rape when they're living together, sleeping in the same bed, she's in a nightie and so forth." The Marion Superior Court Judge who originally presided over David Wise, a man who had drugged his wife for a period of 12 years then raped her, had let Wise go without so much as any prison time. What's more, the judge went as far as to tell the wife to forgive Wise for his crimes. Fortunately, this sentenced was reversed when Wise violated the terms of his home detention, and as of now must spend five years in the Department of Correction. He will also have to register as a sex offender for 10 years.

Marriage in General


Marital Rape in Society

Many Americans feel that when you're married, you have an obligation to have sex with your partner, even if they don't want to. Marie Hartwell-Walker, a family counselor, has had to deal with cases of marital rape over the years, as well as that having sex with a person who can't refuse clearly classifies as rape. According to Health Research Funding, some people may feel that "spousal rape occurs because sex is being withheld in a relationship." This could be due to the fact when a woman isn't having sex due to a doctor's order, and yet their partner has sex with them anyways, or when a woman has just recently come home from the hospital, or when they're even sick. In a 2008 survey published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, the survey found that respondents were more likely to say that "It wasn't really rape" or that "he didn't mean to."

Oftentimes, marital rape is perpetuated through our society by the use of stereotypes, prejudice, and wrong information sources. For instance, when we think of rape, we think of a stranger coming in and forcing a person, at gun point, to have sex with them. While statistics show that a woman's rapist is typically someone who knows her well, that image just doesn't come to mind. What's more, in a society dominated by prejudices, we tend to believe that a woman's sexuality is almost like a commodity, that they're weaker and thus should be subservient to men. This is especially true in the case of marriage, where many feel that the woman should be obedient to the man, so much so she has to be willing to give him everything, including her dignity.


What Can We Do To Stop Marital Rape?

Marital rape is a form of rape that is often overlooked, especially by individuals who don't believe it to be a crime. There are, of course, many organizations and movements that deal women and men with domestic abuse cases, including marital rape. This includes the #MeToo movement, RAINN, Pandora's Project, and the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence. Human rights movements and feminist movements are also attempting to bring a modernized definition of marriage, alongside what it means to actually love someone. However, there is still more work to be done. Societal beliefs aren't easy to break, and oftentimes, a person will resist change, even if it's beneficial for them. There are others who have similar prejudices against women. However, as a nation, and as humans, it's up to us to own up to our prejudices and biases, and keep moving forward.



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    • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

      Tim Truzy 

      2 years ago from U.S.A.

      Super article, Hollie.

      Indeed, rape in marriage probably grows out of an inability for a spouse to recognize his/her partner as an equal. My wife is a part of me and vice versa. If she or I say no; that's it.

      Respect is pivotal in any relationship and we deeply respect one another. Any resentment, aggression, negative feelings, power issues, have no place or room at bedtime.

      Great article again. Thank you for bringing more light on a topic some would prefer to hide under the covers.



    • Kenny MG profile image

      MR Black 

      2 years ago from UK, Europe

      Thanks Robin for this timely and very informative message. Wow this article opens my mind. As rape is increasing in many societies, it has longed been ignored in marriages. As we traditionally thought that once married, its a requirement and any sign of reluctance, brings assaults even death to some women. So very informative, as I am aware consent is vital for sex and any pressure or force is really unwanted sexual act, attention, or rape. So in effect many are committing crime against their spouses.


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