What Is Marital Rape?

Just as with any rape, there are many different circumstances under which marital rape can occur.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2014
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Marital rape refers to forced sexual contact between spouses. This controversial crime is still often misunderstood, and was not recognized as a criminal act in many regions until the late 20th century. The criminalization of marital rape has required an overhaul of centuries or even millennia of common and existing law, and plays an important part in the debate on the rights and responsibilities incurred through marriage.

Centuries of law assert that marital rape cannot exist; since women have been historically treated as property rather than rights-bearing individuals in marriage, it made little sense to lawmakers to stop a man from sexually using his rightful property. According to most common law systems throughout history, once a woman married, her body belonged to her husband and she had no right of refusal.

This belief came sharply into contrast with women's rights movements of the 20th century. Having obtained the rights to vote and own property among other things, activists argued that marriage could not materially diminish individual rights, thus forced sexual contact was still rape regardless of marital status. The tide turned on the long-held system of marital rape exemptions beginning in 1965 in Sweden. Most of Europe, Asia, and North and South America followed suit throughout the final decades of the 20th century. Criminalization of marital rape is far from global, however, and some experts suggest that it remains a highly underreported crime even in regions with laws against it.

There are many different circumstances in which marital rape can occur. Just as with other forms of rape, any situation where one person is forced to have sexual contact, or is too incapacitated to be able to refuse sexual activity, can be considered marital rape. Any type of sexual behavior, including oral, anal, and vaginal intercourse, can be considered rape if coerced without consent.

Some experts suggest that there are a plethora of reasons why marital rape is not reported or prosecuted. Some partners are afraid of their spouse, or unwilling to leave a marriage due to financial instability, the presence of children, or religious doctrine. Others hold the belief that marital rape cannot exist, and it is the right of a married person to use force if sex is refused. Another reason may be a lack of evidence that may occur with a marital sex crime, or that conflicting stories about the incident may render prosecution useless.

Marital rape is considered a serious and widespread crime, despite legislation and attempts to educate the public. According to statistics released in 2009 by the US Department of Justice, 41% of female rapes and 5% of male rapes in the United States were perpetrated by an intimate partner such as a spouse. Considering that some experts suggest that only one out of three marital sex crimes is reported, numbers may in fact be much higher.

Discuss this Article

Post 10

Shouldn't the husband know you don't want to be penetrated when you start wearing pants to bed and much less when your young son sleeps in the bed with you?

I have been married now for almost 22 years and my son will be 21 in a couple of months. I have stayed for my son but I am miserable. I didn't even tell him No when he asked until a few years ago but he still thought it was ok to do me whenever he wants to. I thought I deserved it. I know that's not true now, but it seems too late. I am not worth anything to anyone. When it happens now, I just wish I would die. I hurt inside and feel nasty all over!

Post 9

I am now divorced and had three children with the man who used the date rape drug on me four days after we met. I didn't even know or want to admit something had happened. I woke up with him on top of me and I had specifically said I do not want to have sex. We were using drugs so I took the blame, as I am learning most victims do. I left that night never to see him again. But he had my phone number and kept calling me every day. Long story short, drugs were involved during the entire relationship and then I married him. I finally sobered up -- literally -- and slowly found the courage to leave the marriage. However, during our 10 year marriage he was always insisting on getting high and having sex, no matter how I tried to stop him.

All I can say to those who do not agree with this being a crime is, you haven't lived with the shame, being used as if you are a piece of nothing. Every single time, he just did what he wanted and I would go numb as if it all just didn't matter. It was all I could do at the time. They emotionally beat you down, stripping all your thoughts away from you. You don't matter; you don't have a voice. I was lucky I got the courage to crawl myself out of the black hole I was in. I send strength to any woman in this isolating place.

Post 8

@anon148722: You said that "It's not fair if you have to ask to have sex while kissing and pawing each other." Well, if she is kissing and pawing in return, then obviously she is a willing participant, but if she is too drugged or drunk to answer, or has, in fact, answered no and still gets forced into a sex act, then that's entirely different. Do you not get that?

Post 7

My ex husband raped me while we were separated but trying to work things out. He laid me on my stomach and him being a lot bigger than I am, began to enter me. I told him no many times since my grandparents were outside our bedroom door in the living room. I told him no a lot of times. Now I am wondering how I can go about charging him for what he did to me. I never returned to the house after that and never was in the same room alone with him after this happened.

Post 6

I told my husband no, but he kept poking his penis at my back. Finally, he just rolled me over, did it, then went to sleep as I cried. It was painful, he knew this, and yet, there you have it. Once? No, many times! I thought he had a right to it as we were married! That is actually one of the reasons we divorced. He hurt me, tore me and made me bleed, again and again. And he got away with it.

Post 5

Equality means this: If a man wants to have sex with his wife, can anyone consider it a rape case, or marital rape? What great feminism! If the husband has been criminalized under this concept, is not it more rape for him? Why are husbands the only ones who want sex? Why do wives run away from sex? Why does equality not work here?

Post 4

This is crap. It's just another attempt at defrauding the husband. Next it will be against the law to have sex on your honeymoon. No sex without a permit. If you're not in my bedroom in my house and can see what's going on in there, how can you prove this? The funny thing is if she is so scared why is she asking for half? Just some more crap to mess over the man.

Post 3

I am a victim of marital rape and I am shocked. I do not know what to do.

Post 2

I can't believe that anyone would say that marital rape is not rape. A woman is a person, not a piece of property. She shouldn't have to put out when he wants or face rape she can't report. That's just disgusting and advocating the abuse of a person and her rights to her own body. If a marriage falls apart and the couple doesn't get divorced it doesn't mean that he has 'booty rights' any time he wants.

I was raped by my ex-husband while we were married and it took me years to realize that it was what had happened. We'd been at a party, gotten drunk, and I'd said no and protested several times, but he kept going. Finally, I gave in because, in my drunken state, it was easier to deal with the sex than to fight back.

I said no. Just because I didn't kick and claw and press charges doesn't mean that what happened to me wasn't wrong. It was and I have to deal with the fact that someone I loved and cared about felt like taking advantage of me while he could. He didn't have that right. No one should ever have that right.

Post 1

I trust my wife and I don't think she would do this to me. But I can just imagine how marital rape laws could tempt a wife in a painful marriage on the brink of divorce to accuse her husband of rape. I don't know all the marital rape laws, but if they have them, I sure hope the standard of proof is extremely high, and that the penalties are much lower than normal rape.

Can you imagine a man getting 20 years for having sex when she is drunk? What about 20 years for waking one's wife up with sexual activity? Something not fair about the whole situation is that crimes the other direction would be ignored.

Let's say a man's wife has sex with him and he is drunk, and he accuses her of rape. He would get laughed off. If my wife woke me up by having sex with me, I would say thank you. But if a guy foolishly does that to a wife who does not want it, thinking it is okay, several years down the road, they get a divorce, and he gets a rape charge.

The idea that a spouse has to give specific consent for sex to be legal is one that is dangerous, too. In marriage there should be 'implied consent'. How romantic is it to ask to have sex while you are kissing and pawing each other?

Marital rape involves sex with your own partner who you basically are committing to have sex with as a part of the package when you marry, should carry the same penalty as someone attacking a stranger or someone on a date and stealing sex from him/her. I don't think the penalties should be the same as for conventional rape. And if a guy does this, he is going to have to suffer the penalties in how his relationship works out.

I wish they would keep the whole category under the 'assault' laws, have an extremely high burden of proof, and only pursue the most severe cases.

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