Marital rape

Subject: Law
Type: Evaluation Essay
Pages: 12
Word count: 3248
Topics: Crime, Domestic Violence, Marriage, Rape, Violence Against Women, Women Rights


Marital rape is perpetrated more against women than men. Even though married couples have the right to engage in sexual intercourse with one another, the law prohibits sexual intercourse in marriage without the consent of one partner. Currently, marital rape has been criminalized in all states in the United States. Marital rape became a crime in the United in the 1970s and was criminalized in all the country’s states by 1993 (Michelle, 2016). The laws that regulate marital rape in the United States vary from state to state. Cases of marital rape have been on the rise in recent times even though the laws against it have been made stricter. Traditional perceptions regarding marriage have made it difficult to establish and implement marital rape laws. Rigid perceptions of female and male sexuality and patriarchal societies have further made it difficult to implement marital rape laws. Most developed countries such as the United States have criminalized marital rape while most developing countries have not criminalized it yet. Marital rape has great psychological effects on the victims since it tends to affect their lifestyles afterward. Marital rape is associated closely with other marital crimes such as domestic violence including spouse assault and battery. This research paper will discuss the history of marital rape laws and the issues, statistics and legal formalities that are associated with marital rape.

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Legal history of marital rape

The criminalization of marital rape in the United States began in the 1970s. Before the criminalization of marital rape in the 1970s, it was considered impossible for rape to occur in marriage and no legal action or laws were set against it. In 1981, the Kirchberg v Feenstra court case made it unconstitutional for husbands to have sole ownership of marital property (Michelle, 2016). Marital rape cases before the abolishment of sole ownership of marital property were greatly facilitated by issues related to the marital property. In 1984, the exemption of marital rape from rape legislations was abolished. In the court case of People v Liberta, the ruling made by Judge Sol Wachtler in the New York Court of Appeals led to the inclusion of marital rape in rape legislation (Michelle, 2016). The judge stated that marriage was not supposed to be a license of forcing spouses into sexual intercourse. In 1986, the Williams v State court case made it unconstitutional to exempt marital rape from the U.S sodomy law. The Merton v State court case of 1986 led to the conclusion that marital rape was supposed to be included in the U.S rape law. These court cases led to the criminalization of marital rape in the United States.

All states in the U.S abolished the exemption of marital rape from rape laws, and marital rape was criminalized in all states in the United States. From 1993 marital rape perpetrators could be charged in a court of law in any state in the country. Even though all the states in the country incorporated marital rape in the rape law, the law specifications on marital rape varied among some states but were similar in most states. After 1993, states in the U.S specified the imprisonment sentences that marital rape perpetrators were liable to if found guilty. Imprisonment sentences for marital rape victims varied from one state to another since some were stricter than others.  Even after the inclusion of marital rape in the U.S rape laws in the 1990s rights activists, organizations and feminists continued to lobby for stricter laws and longer imprisonment sentences for marital rape perpetrators.

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In 2005, the state of Tennessee amended its marital rape laws and stating that marital rape was like any other form of rape. The marital rape law of Tennessee before the amendment stated that for marital rape to occur excessive force that led to physical injury or a weapon had to be used by the perpetrator. The state of Ohio is the only state where its marital rape law is similar to that of Tennessee before it was amended. All the rape laws of other states in the U.S consider marital rape as being similar to any other form of rape. In 2013, the state of Washington removed the clause that a spouse could not be charged with third-degree rape for marital rape from its marital rape law (Michelle, 2016).

Statistics on marital rape

The first marital rape incarceration in the United States occurred in the 1970s, and since then marital rape cases and incarcerations have increased in the country. Research studies on marital rape are not carried out occasionally in the country due to the perceptions and stereotypes associated with it. Due to few research studies on marital rape, there is limited statistics regarding marital rape in the country. There were only two statistical surveys that were performed on marital rape in the U.S before 2014. More surveys have been performed after due to the increase in awareness about marital rape.

According to Michelle, one in every eight adult females has experienced marital rape (2016). The prevalence of rape varies from state to state in the U.S since some states report more marital rape cases and incarcerations than others. In 2014, 8% of married women experienced marital rape in San Francisco according to statistical surveys carried out by private research companies (Michelle, 2016). The marital rape cases in Boston were higher than those of San Francisco in the same year. 10% of married women in Boston were reported to have been victims of marital rape (Joseph, 2014).

Marital rape is perpetrated more on women, but there are marital rape cases that are reported by men though rarely. 30% of the marital rape cases reported in the U.S were perpetrated by husbands or boyfriends (Joseph, 2014). Out of the 30%, marital rape cases reported to have been perpetrated by male adults, 9% were perpetrated by husbands or ex-husbands (Joseph, 2014). Women that have separated from their husbands are sometimes forced by their ex-husbands to have sexual intercourse with them. Women have a higher chance of getting raped by their spouses when they bring up the topic of divorce in their marriages. Statistics indicate that one in every four cases of marital rape is perpetrated just before married women are divorced or separated from their partners. According to Michelle, 20% of women that separated from their husbands and had filed court cases for spousal support were reported to have been forced into sexual intercourse by their ex-husbands (2016). Most of these women were seeking for spousal support reported at least one situation in which their marriage partners sexually assaulted them.

Domestic violence is closely associated with marital rape since statistics indicate that domestic violence increases the possibilities of marital rape by 70% (Michelle, 2016). Women that experience domestic violence are likely to be sexually assaulted by their abusive marriage partners. 35% of women that experience sexual assault in marriage experience physical abuse too from their spouses (Michelle, 2016). 69% of married women that experience marital rape the first time experience it afterward from the same marriage partners (Michelle, 2016). 50% of women that have been sexually assaulted by their husbands reported that they were forced to have anal sex (Michelle, 2016). This percentage is higher than that of women that reported to have been raped by their boyfriends or common-law partners.

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According to Bellingham, 33% of marital rape perpetrators are reported to have used objects to penetrate their spouses during the sexual assault ordeals (Michelle, 2016). Bellingham in his research findings indicates that 18% of the women that had reported sexual assault claim that their husbands forced their children to watch or participate in the marital rape ordeal (Michelle, 2016). Marital rape is reported to occur when women have been discharged from hospital after giving birth or when they are advised by doctors not to have sexual intercourse. Married women are prone to rape when they are ill and are not interested in sex due to the illness.

Marital rape incarcerations in the United States are few putting into consideration the increasing number of marital cases in the country. The low number of incarcerations is due to the reluctance of sexually victimized women to report their ordeals to the police. According to Joseph, only 3.2% of married women who are sexually abused by their spouses report the sexual assault ordeals to the police (2014). Most marital cases go unreported, and this has further contributed to the increase of marital rape cases in the United States. Marital incarcerations in developing countries tend to be lower than those of developed countries such as the U.S due to poor legal and judicial systems.

  • Categories of marital rape
  • Non-Physical, sexual persuasion

In this category of marital rape, the sexual assault perpetrator does not use physical force. The perpetrator uses psychological manipulation to persuade the victim into having sex with him even though the victim is not willing. Women at times are obliged to have sex with their husbands since they have the perception that they should because their husbands spend money on them. According to Caryn, 30% of married women in the United States feel that they are obliged to have sexual intercourse with their husbands due to the finances their husbands spend on them (2011). Some women feel obliged to have sex with their husbands since they are afraid of the consequences that may occur due to denying their husbands sex.

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Forced sexual intercourse

In this marital rape category the perpetrator can use either physical force or psychological torture to force the wife into having sex with him (Amber, 2012). The perpetrator may use both if one of the sexual coercion methods fails. The victim is likely to get physically injured during the rape ordeal due to excessive physical force used by the husband.

Battering marital rape

Domestic violence is closely associated with marital rape. Battering rape is the most common form of marital rape in the United States. This form of marital rape occurs due to husbands being hostile to their wives or them wanting to humiliate their wives. It can further occur when the husband tries to retaliate against his wife due to strict marriage regulations imposed by the wife. Statistics on marital rape indicates that 48% of marital rapes are in this category (Boutcher, 2010).

Obsession rape

This category of marital rape is perpetrated when the husband has strange sexual obsessions that he uses his wife to fulfill. Most of the men that perpetrate this form of marital rape tend to have obsessive disorders that are sexual. This form of rape is major caused due to the perpetrator being obsessed with pornography and acts perpetrated in pornography such as bondage sex and sex whereby an individual inflicts pain on his sexual partner. 6% of marital rape cases in the U.S fall under this category (Boutcher, 2010).

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Force only sexual violation

This form of marital rape involves the husband using solely physical force to have sexual intercourse with his wife when she is not willing to do so. In this rape ordeal, the victim is likely to gain physical injuries when the perpetrator uses excessive physical force or power.

Causes of marital rape

Sexual dissatisfaction is a major cause of marital rape. Marriage partners are sometimes usually not satisfied sexually by their spouses. Sexual dissatisfaction may be due to busy working schedules that spouses have or due to disagreements that married couples have. Wives that have busy working schedules are unable to fulfill the sexual desires of their husbands due to lack of time for sexual intercourse, physical or psychological exhaustion. Women who are at loggerheads with their husbands tend to use denial of sex as a punishment for their husbands’ mistakes.  Husbands who are denied sex by their wives due to these factors may at times decide to use physical force or psychological manipulation to force their wives into having sex with them (Amber, 2012).

Alcohol or drug abuse is reported to be a significant cause of marital rape. Many married men are abusers or addicts of alcohol and drugs in the United States. The abuse and addiction to alcohol and drugs contribute greatly to the occurrence of marital rape in the country. Medical examinations of rape perpetrators in the country established that 0.55 of perpetrators had used Rohypnol, 8% tested positive for benzodiazepines, and 38% of the perpetrators were alcohol users (Welch, 2009). Drugs and alcohol corrupt the cognitive judgment and behavior of users and the users tend to act negatively towards others. Husbands who are drug or alcohol abusers or addicts may force their wives into sexual intercourse due to impairment of judgment caused by abuse or addiction.

Psychological issues can contribute to the causes of marital rape.Individuals who are psychologically unstable have poor judgment and may decide to act in the wrong manner. Mental illnesses and disorders among married couples lead to marital rape if they are not treated in the early stages (Amber, 2012). Individuals who are mentally unstable cannot think right and may force their marriage partners into sexual intercourse even when their partners are not ready or not interested.

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Pornography has been identified by researchers to be a cause of marital rape. Pornography portrays a very different picture from that of sexual reality. Married individuals who watch pornography or are addicted to it tend to adopt what they see from pornographic pictures or films. Pornography portrays a picture that men should dominate women sexually and at times portrays that coercion of women into sexual intercourse creates intense sexual pleasure. Individuals who watch pornography tend to be obsessed with the sexual acts that they watch on pornographic films or pictures. Pornography is the major cause of obsession rape in the United States. 6% of marital rape cases that occur in the United States fall under the category of obsession rape (Ellen, 2010). Pornography motivates married individuals to have abnormal sexual intercourse such as bondage sex, anal sex or sexual intercourse where an individual inflicts pain on his partner. Husbands may force their wives into having these weird forms of sexual intercourse due to pornography, but their wives may not be willing to do so. Some husbands tend to force their wives into having these forms of sexual intercourse through use of physical force or psychological manipulation.

Gender stereotype among individuals in the society could lead to marital rape. Men are brought up as aggressive, strong and dominant individuals so that they can prove their masculinity. Women are brought up as physically weak, less aggressive and submissive individuals. Men are perceived to be sexual initiators while women are expected to wait for sexual approaches from men for sexual intercourse to occur (Marsha, 2008). This perception that is created by the society and more specifically through pornography contributes greatly to marital rape.  Men tend to think that use of aggressiveness, physical strength and dominance proves their sexual ability to their wives. The use of excessive aggressiveness, physical strength and dominance are sometimes used even when the wife is not up for it, and this is considered as rape. The norm that women should be submissive to their husbands and must act according to their husbands’ wills forces them not to resist when aggressiveness, physical force, and domination is used on them.

Impact of marital rape

First, marital rape causes physical impact. When the husband uses physical force or intensive aggression to force his wife into having sexual intercourse the wife usually gets physically injured. Forced sexual intercourse results in injuries on the woman’s private parts or other parts of the body due to her being mishandled by the husband. The marital rape perpetrator may also get physical injuries during the ordeal through hurting himself or getting hurt by the victim during the resistance. The victim may experience great pelvic pain after the ordeal (Marsha, 2008). Unexpected and unplanned pregnancies at times occur due to marital rape.  Most of the times when marital rape is perpetrated the perpetrators do not use a condom. Most victims of marital rape do not report to the police and do not go to hospitals or take medicine afterward. Some of the raped women who do not report to the police or hospitals become pregnant afterward.

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Second, marital rape causes psychological impact. Victims of marital rape may become psychologically unstable after the rape ordeal. The victims tend to have low self-esteem afterward and changes in how they perceive themselves occur. The rape victims sometimes feel that they do not fit in their society or social groups which they belong. The victims tend to lose self-value due to the exploitation of their bodies by their marriage partners. Marital rape victims at times become suicide and may commit suicide or attempt to commit suicide. Suicide is usually as a result of self-hatred or clinical depression that occurs after the rape ordeal.

Lastly, the vice has social impact on its victims. Marital rape results to victim stigmatization (Woody, 2015). The marital rape victim is usually discriminated against by other individuals, especially married couples. A male rape victim is usually discriminated more than a female victim due to the gender stereotypes that are present in society. Since cases of husbands being raped by their wives are rare in the country, a married man who claims to have been raped by his wife is highly discriminated against by other people. The victim is at times blamed for the rape ordeal by others even though the crime was perpetrated on her or him.

Solutions towards marital rape

Various solutions have been suggested to stop the vice of marital rape in the society. Creation of awareness is a possible solution towards the bad habit. Most people do not understand what marital rape is and have little knowledge of the laws that regulate it. Married couples should be educated more on marital rape so that they can have a clear understanding of what it is. A clear understanding will help married couples especially women to understand when their marital and sexual rights are violated (Woody, 2015). Moreover, the laws on marital rape present in the country should be stated to the public, especially married couples. A clear understanding of the marital laws will enable victims of marital rape to know which legal actions to take against perpetrators.

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Psychological counseling would work to solve the problem of marital rape in the society. Married couples should visit marriage counselors and other specialized psychiatrists. Marriage counselors will help the married couples to come up with appropriate solutions towards their marital problems, and this will prevent the occurrence of marital rape. Mental psychiatrists should be involved when one or even both of the married individuals exhibit mental instability. Mental instability is a cause of marital rape and should be treated in its early stages before it results in marital rape.


The statistics on marital rape indicate that it has been on the rise in recent years. American states consider marital rape as being similar to any other type of rape. All American States abolished the exemption of marital rape from rape legislation by the year 1993. There are different forms of marital rape that result from the use of physical force or psychological manipulation. Sexual dissatisfaction, pornography, psychological problems, drug and alcohol abuse and gender stereotypes are the major causes of marital rape. Marital rape negatively impacts the victims psychologically, physically and socially. The best solutions towards the issue of marital rape are psychological counseling of married couples and increased creation of awareness about the issue.

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  9. Peterman, Amber; Tia Palermo; Caryn (June 2011). “Estimates and Determinants of Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo”. American Journal of Public Health, 101 (6): 1060–1067
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