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Marital Rape

Updated on August 3, 2009

Marital rape is far more common than many people realize and sadly, it often goes unreported and unprosecuted.

History of Marital Rape Law and Custom

One reason for the silence about marital rape (also known as spousal rape and conjugal rape) is because throughout much of history in many countries and cultures around the world, marital rape was seen as an impossibility. People spoke of "conjugal rights," as if spouses (especially husbands) had the "right" to demand sex whenever they wanted.

In the Bible, for example, Paul wrote "Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self control." (1 Corinthians 7:3-5) Although modern interpretation differs, this passage and others like it was used for centuries to justify marital rape. Many other religions and cultures have taken similar attitudes.

Even today, some cultures still look the other way over marital rape. Afghan president Hamid Karzai recently came under intense criticism from Western countries when he signed a bill into law that effectively made it illegal for Shiite women in Afghanistan to refuse their husbands sex, except in cases of illness.

Western countries arguably have little right to act so outraged, however. In many North American and Western European countries, marital rape was not recognized as a crime until the 1980's or 90's. In fact, as of 1997, only 17 countries named marital rape a crime! Fortunately, publication of the United Nation's Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women has raised awareness of the problem and increased the number of countries that outlaw marital rape to more than 100.

Photo by ghetto_guera29
Photo by ghetto_guera29

Marital Rape Today

Even though understanding of the problem of marital rape has risen, it remains tragically common. Studies estimate that 10-14% of all married women in the United States have been raped by their husband.

The majority of marital rape cases occur in relationships that are physically or emotionally abusive in other ways as well, and because it often occurs as part of a pattern of abuse, it can lead to even more severe and long-lasting consequences for the victim than stranger rape.

Unfortunately, even in countries where marital rape is a crime, prosecuting it can be difficult. In the United States, some states require marital rape to be prosecuted in the same way as any other rape, while others make it a separate crime.

In states where it is treated as a separate crime, procedures may differ substantially from those of a general rape case. For example, in California, non-spousal rapists are not eligible for probation, but spousal rapists are. In West Virginia, spousal rapists can be sentenced to terms of only 2-10 years, while non-spousal rapists are sentenced to 10-35. Marital rape laws also typically allow shorter reporting periods (typically one month to one year, as opposed to up to three years for non-spousal rapes) and require a "threat of force," rather than simple non-consent. Some states prosecute only forced penetration, and do not include oral sex or other forced non-penetrative sexual activity.

Not only that, but because many people view marital rape as somehow "less harmful" than stranger rape, victims may not receive the emotional support they need. Survivors of marital rape tend to report much higher rates of anger and depression than victims of stranger rape, in part because they are more likely to have been the victim of multiple assaults - sometimes even years of brutalization - and in part because they have been victims of the ultimate betrayal of trust - that of the bond between husband and wife.

Domestic Violence PSA


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      The last year has been one of if I refuse ever again my husband says hit the road, He was required by the state starting two weeks after he was discharged from the Military, to have a Guardianship on me because of my bi polar status. He tried 2 times over the last 32 years to get a divorce, both times costing him a lot of money to have the petition denied.

      Last year I had and affair with an old Boy Friend that found me through face book, many people knew I was denying my husband for years but did not understand why, it was not even what I wanted to do when he was discharged, It was a request by his father and the society around us to get him to be agreeable to their agenda, It made things so easy and nice for everyone but my husband. In thirty one years there were only six days he did not work at least 12 hours per day. All of those days off were because he had a brain tumor removed. There were some terrible arguments with myself his father and his fathers friends about hid being required to work all the time, and his no sex life, It was the only control I had on him, I promised sex at a later date if he just shut up and not use rights he had by seniority for the benefit of other peoples needs. This failed after the brain surgery, He took a job by seniority over the objection of his father, Several men in the union that had much less seniority, and four men were terribly hurt by my husband when he decided he did not have to take what they dished out one morning, my husband put all four into critical care, I was informed if I ever locked him out of the house to be beaten again he would do the same to me, I just thought they were going to talk to him so I locked him out to hear them out. I had even offered to normalize our marriage if he backed off and got told to drop dead, my promise meant nothing. His father demanded to know why he did not back down, After that I still refused sex but everything that others required my husband to do, had to be done with a firearm pointed at him. After I had witnessed the savage counter attack that morning I turned very afraid of my husband. Then MRSA set into his spine. It took the feeling from his upper legs down. He fought his way out of a wheel chair to using a cane over three years. Then he discovered my affair, Bi polar it was hard for me to go without sex. When My husband agreed to talk to both of us that morning I did not realize the ramifications of two alpha males. My boy friend Swept my husbands cane, just to show who was going to be in charge. My husband used that cane to fracture his scull. My husband went into a stress center for anger management. Two weeks later he came home before we thought he would, I had accepted doing a favor for his father by accompanying a friend of his fathers to a political funding dinner. Things did not even start with any understanding or cooperation on my husbands part. He told me there was only one person I was going to be with that evening and night, I tried promising to meet any where he wanted after the event and we would talk things through and come to some arrangement that would benefit all parties concerned, His father, me, his fathers friends and society in general. He said the negotiation was done years ago, and now he was not going to put up with a Korean DMZ, in our marriage. No one has a word to say in it, and I had better accept it. I had backed out of the room. Then turned and started fr the door, He grabbed the dress I was wearing and said," This stays I paid for it." it ripped right off in his hand, I asked to please talk things through and he said that when negotiation fails its time for action, I begged please not like this as he took me to the floor. His fathers friend came and tried forcing my husband out of the way. He slammed face first into the concrete drive in front of my husbands arriving mother and father, They had been notified my husband was released. His father picked his friend u and took him to the hospital. His mother came in to talk to me. She got the whole story of the last 31 years, I though as a woman she would understand the control needed on my husband, I ended up with a handprint on my face, So did his father. My mother was also told and told me I was a B.... There have been three more incidents since. My husband will not talk things through with any one, His father slapped him for taking a reservation made for the same friend from last year and me away from him and making him run for his life. IT was very rude when my husband said if he did not turn the reservation over he was going back to the hospital. My husband in front of thirty other guest turned a full fisted a back hand knocking him across the kitchen. My husband also took on to armed men with his cane for trying to back him down, He laid their faces open to the bone. The DA said I could file charges, but my husband found and gave him my journals, The DA said he might have raped me once, but me and his father and friend raped my husband everyday since 1985. He said the judge would throw it out of court.

      I don't really think I did that much wrong. If my husband needed sex that much he should have taken a mistress. He should not have decided that there is nothing that can force him to cooperate. He would even face a firing squad rather than be subservient. and do as others want.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I commend the writer of this hub, kerryg, for taking on such a huge task as to write about this issue and to shedding light on a very difficult social epidemic against people everywhere. I appreciate, especially, the note at the end about those who are survivors of date/acquaintance/marital rape versus the survivors of stranger rape. They are both strong to have survived and carry on, they are both the victims of violent and terrible, unncessary attacks, and they both do create a break down in security and trust, but I believe these do happen in different ways because of the relationship to the attacker.

      As for the commentors, I honor the stories you shared here of your own surival and I appreciate the assertive responses to Tom who unfortunately but clearly promotes the culture of rape we live in, if not participates in it. You are my heros for having stood up to him.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Good article. Yes, alcoholism and mental illness figure into this. I was in a situation where he became increasingly perverse, aggressive and began to hear threatening voices that weren't there. And, as a survivor of multiple rapes of the non-spousal variety, I would say the impact was very different on me than in the case of where, say you just meet someone for the first time and the instant they have a chance to attack you, they do and then it's over. That is very difficult to cope with, of course. But, to live in a day in, day out situation of constant sexual abuse is the stuff of (sick) horror movies. My vision went blurry after the ordeal, the worst of which lasted about six weeks - you are forced to live with your rapist in this state until the divorce is final! Lovely laws we have. Who knew!

      Worse yet, I was always told that marriage laws somehow protected women!

      That's a lie, of course.

      Never let some control freak coerce you into signing a marriage document. It is a license to abuse you in ways you never thought possible.

    • profile image

      no one 

      9 years ago

      Tom B yeah, sexist pigs like you, men who call themselves "christians" and "good husbands" unfortunately have very high influence on our society!!!! go to hell such "christian" fundamentalists, who think that only man has right to have sex with his wife whenever he wants, whather or not a wife wants it!!!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      My Xmother-in-law told me "that a man can't rape his wife" after I told her that her son, my Xhusband had raped me multiple times. How else was she to react, her husband was an abusive alcoholic too... Stand by your man to the extreme.

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from USA

      Thanks, but some of us left the Dark Ages a thousand years ago. If you're really so eager to return to them, I hear they're still hanging around in some parts of Afghanistan and Yemen, so you could try moving there.

    • profile image

      Tom B. 

      10 years ago

      Marriage is about sex. If she's asked for it, she should give it up. A good wife will do as she's told. A husband knows what's good for his wife.

    • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

      DeBorrah K Ogans 

      10 years ago

      Kerryg, Very informative hub! Well done! You have approached a quieted delicate subject that needs to be addressed. Very good Scripture references as well! Thank you for sharing, Blessings!

    • thevoice profile image


      11 years ago from carthage ill

      beautiful job I have seen so much in the real world. sad yet true Great hub


    • Shadesbreath profile image


      11 years ago from California

      A good job summing up this topic. Informative, but not preachy. Good pull on the video too.

    • Tater2tot profile image


      11 years ago from ~~~

      wow. This is interesting. I never thought of such a rape. I knew it could happen but I didn't just never thought about it that much. I can see how the "marital raper" would get a shorter sentence than a stranger, not saying it is less traumatic, I'm saying i could see that. I'm surprised it happens so much. Like I said, interesting.

      Good job!


    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      11 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Competent job as usual. However, I'm not sure that marital rape and date rape should not be treated differently under the law than cases where a rapist unknown to the victim jumps out of the bushes with a knife or gun and rapes someone. It may be that convictions in cases of marital or date rape might be easier to achieve when they are defined and handled separately from cases of rape by strangers.

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 

      11 years ago

      I see that you put some real facts in your hub; excellent. My hub on the subject was more of a rant.


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