Marital Rape: The Sexual Assault No One Talks About

October 20, 2017

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and we have chosen to focus our blog post on types of abuse survivors experience.  This week we are examining marital rape, its prevalence in abusive relationships, and the barriers survivors face in identifying it.

The Connection between Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

Domestic violence encompasses many different types of abuse beyond physical, which is the most commonly known. Emotional and psychological abuse are prevalent tactics, along with manipulation and isolation.  However, many don’t often think of sexual violence as a way a perpetrator can abuse their victim.  Sexual abuse is another tactic that abusers use to control their victims and break down their sense of worth and self-esteem, leaving them feeling worthless, undeserving and more likely to stay in an unhealthy relationship.  Sexual abuse is commonly thought of as something that is separate from domestic violence, but both types of abuse are intertwined.  In fact, a recent study by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) found that two-thirds of women who had been physically assaulted had also been sexually assaulted.  Almost 80% of women who had experienced sexual assault, also reported repeated incidents of forced sex.  These statistics are a staggering number – victims are experiencing sexual trauma on an immense scale, with repeated offenses.

Marital Rape

In an abusive relationship where the partners are married, there is a big misconception that rape cannot occur.  This is not true.  In fact, between 10 and 14 percent of married women will be raped at some point during their marriages (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).  Eighteen percent of female victims of spousal rape report that their children witnessed the crime.  Beyond this, victims of marital rape also face extreme barriers to reporting or even disclosing the act occurred.  Many victims struggle with identifying the act as rape, financial dependence on the abuser, fear that no one will believe them, and concern over the legal restraints of reporting.  Many states have an antiquated approach to marital rape, with some still providing exceptions for spouses or having additional requirements if the assault involved a husband or wife.  Obviously, this can be a major deterrent for a victim already struggling with reporting.  

Current Ohio Law

The Federal government outlawed marital rape on publicly owned lands in 1986.  This is a blanketed statement, but obviously creates a giant loophole for perpetrators as the majority of spousal rape often occurs on private property and in their own homes.  Under the current law in the state of Ohio, there are several statuses which blocks prosecution if the victim is the spouse of the offender:

  • Rape (unless the perpetrator and victim are separated and live apart)
  • Sexual battery
  • Unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Gross sexual imposition
  • Importuning
  • Public indecency

Rape cannot be charged unless the husband and wife are separated and living apart. Rape can be charged if the victim of marital rape was drugged, or they have a physical or mental condition.  These stipulations are a huge barrier in Ohio for reporting spousal rape, as many couples are living together when the assault occurs.  It also deters victims from reporting as the law provides protection for perpetrators that are married and living together.  In Ohio, House Bill 97 was proposed in February 2017, which would allow a person to be convicted of rape involving a spouse, regardless of the living situation and also with no other exceptions.  This has many benefits for victims, besides giving them the opportunity to report their assault without worry or fear of the perpetrator being protected solely because they are their spouse, it also may provide safety for non-married individuals who later could be victimized by perpetrators who were never prosecuted for rape because it involved their spouse.  It also provides legal recognition for personal safety and autonomy, regardless of marital status (OAESV).

What Now?

These barriers show why marital rape is the most under reported type of sexual assault.  It also is a protected way for married perpetrators to exert power and control over their victims.  It’s important to keep the discussion of spousal rape ongoing; making the subject common knowledge, letting survivors know their options, and recognizing it for what it is – sexual violence.  Providing support for victims, letting them know that spousal rape IS rape, and there is help out there for them.  The Safe Haven provides advocacy, counseling, support groups and emergency shelter for survivors.  We also have a confidential crisis line available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (419-289-8085).  Lastly, you can also support House Bill 97.  Speakupohio.org has a page dedicated to this issue, with numbers of legislators that are key in getting this passed. Visit Support HB 97 to look over this information.

 

References

https://www.domesticshelters.org/domestic-violence-articles-information/when-abusers-use-sexual-abuse-to-control#.WeTLAjspDIW

http://speakupohio.org/2017/03/16/support-hb-97-outlaw-marital-rape/

https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislation/legislation-summary?id=GA132-HB-97 

https://nij.gov/journals/256/Pages/sexual-assault.aspx 

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