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Make no mistake about it—marital rape is a serious form of violence and an often-present component of domestic violence, and it is illegal in all 50 states.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), marital rape occurs when your spouse forces you to take part in sex acts without your consent. This includes any unwanted intercourse or penetration obtained by force, threat of force or when the wife is unable to consent. RAINN says research shows that marital rape can be equally, if not more, emotionally and physically traumatizing than rape by a stranger.
Some Still Believe Sex is a "Wifely Duty"
Juanito Vargas, associate vice president of Safe Horizon, a New York domestic violence nonprofit and the largest victims’ services agency in the U.S., says he hears about incidents of marital rape from his clients but, unfortunately, many of them don’t even know it’s rape. RAIIN agrees that it remains one of the least reported crimes. Explains Vargas, “It could be due to the culture—this is the expectation of my culture, that I’m supposed to submit to whatever my husband says.” Some survivors believe they’re supposed to have sex with their husbands even when they don’t want to and say no.
It wasn’t until the late 1970s that anyone was convicted of raping their spouse in the U.S., according to RAINN. Before then, there was a common law presumption that “real rape” could only occur by a stranger and that forced sex was a “wifely duty.” Luckily ideas changed and, in the 1970s and ‘80s, states began adopting laws criminalizing marital rape and, by 1993, every state had made marital rape an illegal offense.
An Advocate Can Help You Speak Out
While laws vary slightly between states, Vargas says that in New York, marital rape is listed as a separate and individual charge felony offense when it occurs in conjunction with domestic violence. So, it is important survivors report this to police. If you’re uncomfortable or scared to report marital rape, seek out an advocacy agency like Safe Horizon. “We have rape survivor advocates on call 24 hours a day so that when a victim of rape goes to a hospital emergency room, the hospital calls one of our advocates who will then show up to be with the victim as [he or] she is going through the whole experience.”
To find an advocate near you, visit our Find Help page, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.
For more information on sexual abuse, read "When Abusers Use Sexual Abuse to Control."
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