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How the United States Treats Marital Rape

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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 religious and some cultural. And if it does happen, how do we respond?

Marital Rape Law in California

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 a 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, even in 2017 there were eight states that still had laws differentiating general rape and marital rape. Some even carried exemptions under certain situations. A local newspaper from Ohio 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.

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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 been drugging and raping his wife for 12 years—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 sentence was reversed when Wise violated the terms of his home detention. He was then sentenced to five years in the Department of Corrections and would have to register as a sex offender for 10 years.

Consent is only when both partners say "yes."

Consent is only when both partners say "yes."

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. She points out 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." For example, this could include 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 sick and they still are coerced into sexual relations. 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 misinformation. 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 that 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.

For More Information About Marital Rape

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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