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Martial Rape Essay, Research Paper

Marital Rape

“When she says NO, it’s rape… even when she’s married to him”

“Every woman has the right to control her own body and to make decisions about having sex, using birth control, becoming pregnant and having children. She does not lose these rights if she marries.”

These quotes were taken from Stopping Sexual Assault in Marriage published by the Center for Constitutional Rights

Much of the attention that has been given to marital rape has emerged from the legal community. This has occurred because throughout the history of most societies, it has been acceptable for men to force their wives to have sex against their will. The traditional definition of rape in the United States most commonly was, “sexual intercourse with a female not his wife without her consent”

Many have argued, this provided husbands with an exemption from prosecution for raping their wives-a “license to rape”. The foundation of this exemption can be traced back to statements made by Sir Matthew Hale, Chief Justice in 17th century England. Hale wrote, “The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract, the wife hath given herself in kind unto the husband which she cannot retract.”

This established the notion that once married, a woman does not have the right to refuse sex with her husband. This rationale remained largely unchallenged until the 1970’s when some members of the women’s movement argued for the elimination of the spousal exemption because it failed to provide equal protection from rape to all women

Approximately 10-14% of married women are raped by their husbands in the United States. In the city of Charlotte, the statistics are rising every year. The following statistics reflect ONLY those spousal rapes that were reported. Keep in mind that most married women do not know about the spousal rape laws. In 1997 the statistics were 1%, 1998, 1.1% and in 1999 1.8%.

Historically, most rape statutes red that rape was forced sexual intercourse with a woman not your wife, thus granting husbands a license to rape. On July 5, 1993, marital rape became a crime in all 50 states, under at least one section of the sexual offense codes.

The definition of sexual assault of a spouse as defined in the North Carolina Code is as follows:

 A person is guilty of sexual assault of a spouse when that person engages in sexual intercourse or sexual intrusion with his or her spouse without the consent of the spouse and:

1. The lack of consent results from forcible compulsion; or

2. The offender afflicts serious bodily injury upon his or her spouse; or

3. The offender uses a deadly weapon in the commission of the offense.

 Any person who violates the above provisions shall be guilty of a felony, and, upon conviction, shall be:

1. Imprisoned in the penitentiary between 2 and 10 years; or

2. Imprisoned in the penitentiary between 2 and 10 years and fined no more than $5,000

In 17 states and the District of Columbia, there are no exemptions from rape prosecution granted to husbands. However, in 33 states, there are still some exemptions given to husbands from rape prosecution. When his wife is most vulnerable (such as, she is mentally or physically impaired, unconscious, asleep, etc.) and is unable to consent, a husband is exempt from prosecution in many of these 33 states.

Women who are raped by their husbands are likely to be raped many times. They experience not only vaginal rape, but also oral and anal rape. Researchers generally categorize marital rape into three types:

 Force-only rape: This is when husbands uses only the amount of force necessary to coerce their wives.

 Battering rape: Husbands rape and batter their wives. The battering may happen concurrently or before or after the sexual assault.

 Sadistic /obsessive rape: Husbands use torture or perverse sexual acts. Pornography is often involved.

Women are at particularly high risk for being raped by their partners under the following circumstances:

 Women married to domineering men who view them as “property”

 Women who are in physically violent relationships

 Women who are pregnant

 Women who are ill or recovering from surgery

 Women who are separated or divorced

It is a myth that marital rape is less serious than other forms of sexual violence. There are many physical and emotional consequences that may accompany marital rape.

 Physical effects include injuries to the vaginal and anal areas, lasserations, soreness, bruising, torn muscles, fatigue, and vomiting.

 Women who are battered and raped frequently suffer from broken bones, black eyes, bloody noses and knife wounds.

 Gy ne co logical effects include vaginal stretching, miscarriages, stillbirths, bladder infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and infertility.

 Short-term psychological effects include Post Traumatic Shock Syndrome, anxiety, shock, intense fear, depression and thoughts of suicide.

 Long-term psychological effects include disordered sleeping, disordered eating, depression, intimacy problems, negative self-images, and sexual dysfunction.

Research indicates a lack of responsiveness to marital rape survivors on behalf of service providers – particularly police officers, religious leaders, rape crisis counselors, and battered women’s advocates. There is a need for those who come into contact with marital rape survivors to comprehensively address this problem and provide resources, information and support to survivors.

In conclusion, despite the fact that marital rape has not been criminalized for long in the United States, it is clearly a serious form of violence against women and worthy of public attention. Marital rape may be even more traumatic than rape by a stranger because a wife lives with her assailant and she may live in constant terror of another assault whether she is awake or asleep. Given the serious effects, there is clearly a need for those who come into contact with marital rape survivors to provide assistance and challenge the prevailing myth that rape by one’s spouse is inconsequential. Rape crisis counselors and advocates for battered women are in particularly important leadership positions to address the problem of marital rape in society and to assist survivors of this form of violence. More research on the effects of marital rape, particularly for pregnant women and the children who witness the sexual violence is necessary. Additionally, researchers should investigate the motivations for why men rape their wives and address prevention and treatment strategies.

Women who need assistance should contact their local rape crisis center or battered women’s shelter. Be forewarned that many rape crisis center and shelters may not have services specifically designed for survivors of wife rape. Try not to get discouraged, and know that efforts are underway to increase services for wife rape survivors. If you need a referral to a local agency, please call:

National Domestic Violence Hotline


Rape Abuse Incest National Network


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