Marital rape entails sexual action with one’s partner devoid of his or her consent. Failure to get consent is the fundamental component that results in the involvement in violence. This type of rape was considered a contradictory term in the United States until recently. In the years leading up to the 1970s, every state had a rape law that exempted cases of husbands and wives (Jackson, 2015). It was in 1993 that all fifty states in the US agreed to illegalize marital rape.
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Nevertheless, in some states, the influence of past exemptions is still felt, thus hindering prosecutions of spousal rape. In most nations around the world, marital rape is either outside the set laws or has been illegalized, although broadly tolerated. Since marital rape has negative effects on its victims, it requires proper intervention.
Impact of the Problem
Spousal rape is a rampant problem across the globe. Though there has been inadequate research on the issue in many nations, it has been established to affect about one in every four women (25%), mainly young couples, and it rarely happens to men (Chattopadhyay, 2019). Marital rape has far-reaching effects on the physical and mental health of the victim, stability of the family, and welfare of children. Although it does not often cause physical injury, the problem is also linked to a heightened risk of the scope of reproductive and sexual health concerns with both short-term and long-term effects. In some instances, marital rape is accompanied by physical assault after the occurrence of quarrels.
The negative influence of spousal rape on psychological wellbeing is as severe as the physical effects, and both may be similarly long-lasting. Deaths in marital rape cases mainly arise from victims committing suicide attributable to the loss of self-esteem or murder from the ensuing physical assault (Xue et al., 2019). Marital rape has a profound impact on the social welfare of the victims and usually results in divorce (Adams-Clark & Chrisler, 2018). Although a forced sexual act leads to gratification on the side of the perpetrator, its fundamental impact is usually the articulation of dominance and power over the victim. In most cases, a husband who compels his wife into a sexual act is convinced that his actions are justifiable since he is married to her.
Marital rape is mostly experienced by women and is a chronic type of violence that occurs in nearly all abusive marriages. An intricate web of national governments, cultural beliefs, and established ideologies that merge to tolerate each situation and occurrence in numerous ways perpetuate the problem. The failure to illegalize and prosecute the perpetrators of spousal rape is entrenched in the traditional perception of marriages, interpretation of spiritual doctrines, notions concerning sexuality, and anticipations in the culture of subordination of a woman by a man. Such views are widespread in most regions around the world.
Traditional perspectives on sexuality and marriage started being questioned in the Western world in the 1960s, particularly through feminist movements (Naqvi, Ibrar, Hussain, & Walsh, 2016). This has continually called for the recognition of the rights of a woman to self-determination of concerns regarding her body and the removal of existing exemptions or justification of spousal rape in the existing laws.
Many nations started illegalizing spousal rape toward the end of the twentieth century, and progressively more systems allow the prosecution of perpetrators than in 1970. The illegalization of spousal rape has been realized through different approaches, for instance, the withdrawal of legal exemptions, judicial resolutions, arguments of its occurrence as a form of domestic violence, or the creation of laws that prohibit particular offenses (Adams-Clark & Chrisler, 2018). Despite the efforts that have been undertaken, it is still not clear whether marital rape is covered by the existing rape laws in some countries, although in others, it is criminalized by statutes that outlaw family violence, for example, assault and battery regulations.
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Studies have found that spousal rape can lead to more harm when compared to sexual assault by a stranger since the victims have to remain with their abusive spouses, and the problem persists (Honda et al., 2018). In most instances, victims of marital rape find it hard to identify the issue as a crime or their spouses as criminals and fear possible negative effects on their children’s wellbeing. They usually choose to silently persevere to avoid the escalation of the issue to physical assault or divorce. In some cases, marital rape is an abusive approach employed by a batterer to establish and maintain domination and subjugation over the partner.
Wives are often raped by their husbands as an extension of a beating and threatened with severe violence if they do not abide by sexual demands or are compelled to engage in the act to fulfill the abuser’s necessity to make up for the preceding physical assault. Research has established that husbands who both rape and batter their wives have a high probability of severely injuring or murdering them. Though spousal rape and family violence usually occur together, there is a need to look at the occurrence of these issues separately (Naqvi et al., 2016). It is essential to comprehend spousal rape as an issue distinct from physical assault because it is particularly distressing, and the trauma associated with both has to be tackled disjointedly and thoroughly by professional service providers.
The intricacy of the Problem
Marital rape remains a profoundly misconstrued type of domestic violence. The idea of one spouse forcing themselves on the other is usually believed to be a justifiable way of seeking one’s conjugal rights. The concept of consent in a marriage situation is commonly misunderstood, and instead, women are compelled to be in an unending situation of approval (Honda et al., 2018). Most people feel that spouses do not require consent.
Such primitive and patriarchal sentiments majorly propagate marital rape issues and let most occurrences go unreported. The reluctance of the government in most countries to illegalize rape within marriages strengthens such beliefs. Nevertheless, according to feminist movements, which usually have to reinforce their arguments through the testimonies of women who have previously been in abusive marriages, marital rape is an intensely perilous kind of domestic violence.
Although rape is just a one-time happening, when it occurs in marriages, it creates a situation where the victim is continuously assaulted and has to cope with it. In marital rape, over and above the violation of one’s body, there is an unspeakable betrayal of intimacy and trust. Though a husband may force his wife into a sexual act, treat her roughly, and issue threats, he does not leave her with injuries or bleeding, so many people may fail to understand the psychological torture she is going through. Failure to illegalize marital rape creates a situation where married women suffer and no one, not even the government, protects them (Kim, 2018). It also sends a signal that rape is allowed on the condition that it is done to a spouse.
In most jurisdictions, there is no need to create new spousal rape offenses. The government is only required to remove the existing exemptions in laws that prohibit marital rape. There is a need for governments to review their perspectives and start identifying marital rape as illegal as if it were done to a stranger since it carries similar or even worse consequences to the victims and their families. It is also illogical to criminalize domestic violence only where physical assault occurs and fails to include marital rape when it arises in the same setting, has similar concerns, and is strongly interrelated.
An increasingly higher number of countries are taking steps towards the illegalization of spousal rape (Adams-Clark & Chrisler, 2018). However, victims’ fear of violence from their abusive partners in retaliation, shame, guilt, cultural intolerance, and insufficient knowledge of the law leads to a low level of reporting and prosecution of the cases internationally. A sense of embarrassment among marital rape victims coupled with the failure of law enforcement officers to treat such occurrences as serious offenses inhibit the successful implementation of the regulations. The illegalization of marital rape will have more benefits than drawbacks. Moreover, it will make potential perpetrators of the crime fear prosecution hence act as an effective approach to reducing the occurrence of the problem.
Because of the sensitive nature of marital rape and the profound trauma it inflicts, it is better to seek marriage counseling from an expert in the field early enough than initiate legal proceedings, unless in high profile occurrences where there are severe injuries or murders. Effective therapy will address emotional and mental health effects that occur in the course of the crime, in addition to tackling the underlying psychological issues, for instance, lost trust and a crushed belief system.
Although full recovery from the effects of marital rape is difficult, it is vital that affected couples go for effective counseling as it will also save other spheres of their lives. After repeated marital rape, victims lose self-esteem, feel fragile and helpless, and may lack faith in themselves and the world around them (Kushmider, Beebe, & Black, 2015). However, after a few counseling sessions, they regain their former strength, become the important persons they used to be before the occurrence, and recover the estimable love life they had.
Marital rape involves forced sexual activity with one’s partner without his or her approval. In 1993, all states in the US decided to criminalize spousal rape. This form of domestic violence requires proper intervention to avoid the negative effects it has on victims.
It is a rampant problem around the world and has been established to affect approximately 25% of women. Marital rape has harmful effects on the physical and mental well-being of the victim, peace in the family, and interests of children. Despite a full recovery from the impacts of marital rape being difficult, it is essential for affected couples to seek valuable counseling as it will also help in other aspects of their lives.
Adams-Clark, A. A., & Chrisler, J. C. (2018). What constitutes rape? The effect of marital status and type of sexual act on perceptions of rape scenarios. Violence against Women, 24(16), 1867-1886.
Chattopadhyay, S. (2019). The responses of health systems to marital sexual violence–A perspective from Southern India. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 28(1), 47-67.
Honda, T., Wynter, K., Yokota, J., Tran, T., Ujiie, Y., Niwa, M.,… Kamo, T. (2018). Sexual violence as a key contributor to poor mental health among Japanese women subjected to intimate partner violence. Journal of Women’s Health, 27(5), 716-723.
Jackson, A. L. (2015). State contexts and the criminalization of marital rape across the United States. Social Science Research, 51, 290-306.
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Kim, D. (2018). Marital rape immunity in India: Historical anomaly or cultural defense? Crime, Law and Social Change, 69(1), 91-107.
Kushmider, K. D., Beebe, J. E., & Black, L. L. (2015). Rape myth acceptance: Implications for counselor education programs. The Journal of Counselor Preparation and Supervision, 7(3), 1-20.
Naqvi, R. H., Ibrar, M., Hussain, B., & Walsh, C. (2016). History of violence against women (VAW) in the West, recognition and emerging interventions. Pakistan Journal of Criminology, 8(4), 94-97.
Xue, J., Fang, G., Huang, H., Cui, N., Rhodes, K. V., & Gelles, R. (2019). Rape myths and the cross-cultural adaptation of the Illinois rape myth acceptance scale in China. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 34(7), 1428-1460.