Can a husband rape his wife? I find myself amazed by the number of people who believe that they can’t. It seems, the common mindset is that when a man and woman marry, the woman somehow become the man’s property, for him to do with what he wants, whenever he wants, regardless of her feelings. Well, I disagree completely and feel it is my duty as a past victim of spousal rape, to set the record straight that rape is rape, regardless of marital status just as murder is murder regardless of marital or relationship status. I will define the legal definition of spousal/marital rape, briefly discuss the history, point out the differences in requirements and punishments for rape vs. spousal rape, and finally describe the effects spousal rape has on its victims.
While the legal definition varies by state, spousal rape can be defined as any unwanted intercourse or penetration obtained by force, threat of force, or when the wife is unable to consent (crisisconnection.org). Shockingly, though, many states don’t recognize the last part of that definition in their laws. Some states only consider it spousal rape if force, threat of force, use of a deadly weapon, or bodily injury occurred during the offense. If this criterion isn’t met, the act is not considered a crime; it is considered the husbands contractual right per the marriage agreement.
Until the late 1970’s, most states didn’t consider spousal rape a crime at all. Typically, spouses were exempted from the sexual assault laws (ncvc.org). The traditional definition of rape most commonly used in the United States up until this point was, ‘sexual intercourse with a female who is not his wife without her consent’ (Barshis, 1983, p. 383). Sadly, this thinking remained mostly unchallenged until the 1970’s when the women’s movement argued for equal protection regardless of marital status. As a result of the women’s movement, on July 5, 1993, spousal rape became a crime in all 50 states, under at least one section of the sexual offenses code (crisisconnection.org). In 17 states and the District of Columbia, there are no exemptions from rape prosecution given to husbands (crisisconnection.org). However, in 33 states there are still exemptions given to husbands from rape prosecution which demonstrates that rape in marriage is somehow still considered a lesser offense than other types of rape.
Some examples of the differences in treatment of rape of a spouse from that of a non-spousal rape include: a shorter reporting period for spousal rape (depending on the state, 30 days, 90 days or 1 year, as opposed to at least 3 years for non-spousal rape), the previously mentioned requirement of the presence of force or injury, and in some states, the requirement that the victim must be living separate from the offender for it to qualify as a crime. Not surprisingly, the punishment for a spousal rape also differs from that of a non-spousal rape. For example, rape of a spouse by force or deadly...