What is Marital Rape?

Marital rape occurs when your spouse forces you to take part in certain sex acts without your consent. It is a form of intimate partner violence, i.e., an abuse of power by which one spouse attempts to establish dominance and control over the other. Research shows that it can be equally, if not more, emotionally and physically traumatizing than rape by a stranger.

While every state has its own laws on the subject, broadly defined, marital rape includes “any unwanted intercourse or penetration (vaginal, anal, or oral) obtained by force, threat of force, or when the wife is unable to consent.” If you have experienced rape by your spouse, you have the right to make a police report. Know that you are not alone and can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE for help at any hour of the day. You can also visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline.

What Special Issues Do Victims Face?

As described by one survivor, the special issues faced by marital rape victims (as distinguished from other rape victims) include:

  • Longer recovery from trauma. Contrary to popular belief, the trauma actually may last longer for the marital rape victim than for the stranger rape victim. Reasons include lack of recognition and ability to share the pain, and the profound sense of a betrayal of trust.
  • Higher likelihood of repeated assaults. Research shows that women who are marital rape victims are more likely to experience repeated assaults than other rape victims; in fact, among battered women, sexual assault may be a routine part of the pattern of the abuse. As noted by one researcher “[w]omen who are raped and battered by their partners experience the violence in various ways—e.g., some are battered during the sexual violence or the rape may follow a physically violent episode where the husband wants to ‘make up’ and forces his wife to have sex against her will.”
  • The married perpetrator is more likely to use “anal and oral rape to humiliate, punish and take ‘full’ ownership of their partners,” say researchers.
  • Pressure to stay with perpetrator. A victim with children who lacks outside employmentmay be financially dependent on the spouse and feel there is no way to leave the situation, and the victim may face additional pressure from family members or friends to remain with the perpetrator.
  • Negative effects on children in the household. Such children may witness the sexual violence or otherwise be affected by it.2
  • Difficulty identifying what happened as a crime. A victim may find it difficult, for cultural reasons, to define the other spouse’s conduct as rape or identify someone she married and loves as a “rapist.”