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Rape in Marriage & Relationships

Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for women sexually assaulted by male partners

Real Rape, Real Pain is a book may make you feel uncomfortable, in that it tackles the violence and unpleasantness of rape within marriage; it forces us to confront the hidden violence in our society. It challenges the silence and secrecy about marital rape. As the authors say, "Violence is about using power and control, not about being out of control. There is no excuse for marital violence ever." The aims of the book are changing the rape culture and helping survivors. Chapters cover identifying rape in marriage, women at risk, staying with a partner who has raped you, sexuality after partner rape, a safety plan, and numerous other issues related to partner rape. As American author Monika Ostroff says, "Real Rape, Real Pain is the compassionate, loving friend that reaches into the darkness to the sufferer of partner rape, offering hope and help for a healthy life, free from violence. A wise teacher, this book will inform everyone from professionals working in the field to family members of women being victimized to politicians who are empowered to make the necessary changes to ensure safety on all our behalves. This book is a beacon of light that illuminates a dark, misunderstood yet incredibly common phenomenon of violence. It is a must-read for every survivor, family member, clinician, and politician!" Kindle edition available.

Across the world, the standard for centuries was that wives were considered the property of their husbands; just as a horse, a home, or a hat might be. Wives were expected to submit to their husband's demands for sex, and husbands were given free pass to enforce what was considered their "marital right" to sex; with violent means if necessary. These "norms" were not only enforced within the family, but daughters were told by their mothers that "it's just the way it is", and a wide range of religions supported (and ENFORCED) the idea that sex was something owed by a wife to her husband, and was implied, if not specifically spelled out, within the marriage vows.

Rape within marriage was seen within the larger umbrella of domestic violence - that it was a "private" matter, and that society and law enforcement had no place within the home in general, and the marital bedroom in particular. But slowly, those values began to change. Alabama, in 1891, was the first state to stop recognizing the legal right of husbands to beat their wives, and Maryland took it a step further, making it a criminal act in 1882. As the term "domestic violence" began to be applied to forms of violence within relationships and marriages, the sexual component did NOT come along for the ride. Instead, there was a continuing willingness to "allow" rape within marriage by failing to make such behavior either a criminal act, or one that garnered outrage within the family, the church, or within larger society in general; essentially taking the position that any woman who stayed within her marriage also chose to continue to owe a sexual duty to her husband.

Resources: Books on Religious & Historical Aspects of Spousal Rape

Rape Within Marriage: A Moral Analysis DelayedRape Within Marriage: A Moral Analysis Delayed

Traces the history and provides an analysis of the Catholic theological and moral position on the issue of rape within marriage from the early 1600s to the present. Also addresses the issue of the right of a wife to use artificial means to avoid impregnation from rape within marriage. Raises serious questions as to whether critics or defenders of Catholic moral doctrine have always gotten to the foundations of that doctrine.

In the United States, as early as 1857, courts officially accepted that marriage was, in itself, a defense to rape (Commonwealth v. Fogerty). A Texas husband, convicted of attempted rape and assault against his wife in 1905, had the conviction overturned on appeal when the court ruled that marriage meant immunity (Frazier v. State). California enacted a law in 1945 that would have allowed for a rape charge against a husband IF there was traumatic injury involved, but even this was shot down because the law only applied to husbands, not specifically against potential wives as perpetrators, and the Superior Court shot it down as being unconstitutional because it discriminated against husbands.

Rape within marriage continued to be acceptable (unless there was great injury) until South Dakota specifically outlawed it in 1975. Other states slowly began to disallow the right to rape over the next 20 years, with all states addressing SOME aspect of the matter through 1993, when North Carolina became the 50th state to outlaw spousal rape.

Rape in Marriage

One out of seven American women who have ever been married has been raped by a husband or ex-husband. Written by the principal investigator for the National Institute of Mental Health study that discovered this shocking statistic, this book is a monumental, eye-opening work that dispels misinformation and illusions about a previously ignored aspect of family violence.

But even though ALL states now have legislation in place to outlaw marital rape, all is NOT well. In many states, the language of the criminal elements of the crime specify that the couple must be living apart or separated before the act is considered, or will be prosecuted as, a crime. Others require that other crimes, like assault or battery, must be proven to be part of the act, and others are sketchy at best in their real world applicability to victimized wives. Attempting to apply the statutes to those who are NOT married, or to same-sex couples, who only enjoy the protections under "domestic" laws in some states and to varying degrees, complicates matters even further, and all too often leaves the enforcers and prosecutors of the law with their hands tied or with little motivation to attempt to address the issue.

However, reluctance or failure to prosecute cases often isn't a lack of caring or malfeasance on the prosecutor's part, nor a lack of competent investigation on the part of police, but rather one that centers around the very nature of the crime itself. As opposed to rapes committed by strangers, where ANY evidence of sexual activity can lend itself to criminal charges, rapes committed within marriages and relationships are unique in that that the victim and the accused are EXPECTED to be having sex anyway. So while ANY evidence of sex might make a case against a stranger, cases of marital/relationship rape center around the concept of CONSENT - something that can't be recorded, photographed, documented, or PROVEN in court. It exists solely within the mental function of the victim; and, because the concept of consent means communication, both verbal and non-verbal, between two people, it becomes easy for the defense to counter that "she didn't stop me", "she didn't say no", and similar phrases that place the "blame" on a misunderstanding or poor communication - turning such cases into literal "he said, she said" cases, where the state often fails to meet their burden of proof of criminal intent.

Thus, a majority of cases become impossible to prosecute, not because the prosecution wouldn't love to hold the offender accountable, but because they bear the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the act was a crime. In other words, unless a perpetrator causes some substantial injury in the course of the rape, prosecution of such crimes remains, even today, questionable, at best. Cases where tactics such as coercion function to force submission, or where the level or type of violence is traceless, often leave disheartened and bewildered victims in their wake. The codification of marital rape into criminal law was a huge step forward at one level; society took the formal step of saying "hey, this type of behavior doesn't fly". But making laws that criminalize marital rape is a far cry from being able to prove those crimes, and it's only to that extent that those laws can be enforced.

This inherent problem in cases of marital/relationship rape means that those to whom such victims turn for support, for protection, and for aid in holding offenders accountable for their actions, must be vigilant to NOT treat such reports lightly, or to not persevere in the expedient collection and preservation of evidence and statements from the victim, such that potential for a prosecutable case are preserved. It's also vital that victims, their support systems, and the legal, medical, mental health, spritual, and advocacy professionals to whom a victim might turn, understand that choosing to return or remain in a marriage or relationship is NOT "wanting to be raped", that repeated incidents against the victim is NOT a sign that "it's not that bad", and that the victim has the right, even if not a realistic expectation, to want to preserve the relationship.

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Last Updated: March 4, 2011