Spousal Rape
Spousal rape is non-consensual sexual assault in which the perpetrator is the victim's spouse. Spousal rape is also called marital rape and often wrongly mixed with partner rape or intimate partner sexual assault (IPSA). Because there is a widely held view that a man or woman surrenders consent upon entering a marriage, the law has been slow to criminalize this form of sexual assault. It is now a crime in most parts of the Western world, but exemptions still apply in some places; for example in some places marital rape cannot be prosecuted if the couple were living together at the time of the assault.

Psychological Damage

Due to popular stereotypes of "real" rape, it is often assumed that because spouses have been sexually intimate, forced sexual intercourse in marriage is not as traumatic as rape by a stranger. However the research of Finkelhor and Yllo (1985) and Bergen (1996) found that victims of marital/partner rape suffer longer-lasting trauma than victims of stranger rape. One reason for this is thought to be the lack of social validation that prevents a victim from getting access to support. Domestic violence services have made inroads in addressing this problem. Another reason is the betrayal of trust.
"Marital rape is so destructive because it betrays the fundamental basis of the marital relationship, because it questions every understanding you have not only of your partner and the marriage, but of yourself. You end up feeling betrayed, humiliated and, above all, very confused."[1] Rape by a stranger can be highly traumatic but is usually a one-off event and is clearly understood as rape. In the case of rape by a husband or long term sexual partner the history of the relationship affects the victim’s reactions. Marital rape is likely to be part of an abusive relationship. Trauma from the rape adds to the effect of other abusive acts or abusive and demeaning talk. Furthermore marital rape is likely to happen repeatedly. [2]

References:[1] Bergen, Raquel Kennedy, "Marital Rape" on the site of the Applied Research Forum, National Electronic Network on Violence Against Women. Article dated March 1999. (Retrieved February 8, 2005.) [2] Easteal, P. Voices of the Survivors, Spinifex Press, North Melbourne, 1994.

"A Crime Against Woman, A Crime Against Wives"

In 1987, I became free of a relationship that almost cost me my life. For two years, I had lived with a man who thought love equaled ownership, and who retaliated brutally when challenged. He had beaten me, threatened me with weapons, and terrorized me in other ways. Other things had happened in that relationship, too. This man forced sex on me many times, as punishment for his jealousy, when he needed to assert power, or just because I said no. Though it was the threats to my life that seemed most frightening at the time, I was not to realize until years later the severe damage inflicted by the sexual abuses. And I knew that even had I wanted to admit what happened or say that it hurt, I would get little empathy. It couldn't have done me any real harm - hadn't I willingly been in his bed? And didn't that imply unlimited consent? No, it was not real rape and my pain was not real pain. I had internalized the myth that "real" rape is committed by men with hairy palms and glazed expressions lurking in alleyways. Nevertheless, some time after leaving, I began to seek new ways of making sense of my experiences. In studying partner rape, I found out how shockingly prevalent it is. Researchers have been telling us this for twenty years:

" A 1985 study estimated that 10 to 14 per cent of married women have been or will be raped by their spouses.”

" In researching marital rape, Diana Russell conducted 930 interviews with women from a cross-section of race and class. Russell concluded that rape in marriage is the most common yet most neglected area of sexual violence.”

" In 2002, the British Home Office published the results of a survey on sexual assault responded to by 6,944 women. 45 percent of rapes were committed by present partners, with a further 11 percent by past partners. This study also found that partner rape entails the highest occurrence of multiple rape and degree of physical injury.”

Further, research shows that men who rape their partners are more likely to kill them. Contrary to the widely-held myth that partner rape does no real harm to the victim, studies indicate that partner rape carries longer and graver implications than for women raped by strangers.
So, we see that partner rape is common, potentially life-threatening and highly traumatic. Yet, in attempting to heal, I found that despite the research, little was being said about marital/partner rape in a way that was accessible to many women who had experienced it. Much rape-recovery literature focused on stranger or one-off acquaintance rape, and wasn't scoped to capture the complexity of issues partner rape survivors often face. Domestic violence literature in general pointed out rape as another form of abuse, without going into the areas of special wounding that rape causes. The problem with this is stated by Finkelhor and Yllo: 'When treated as battered women, the wounds left by the sexual abuse often go unaddressed.[1]

I decided that I wanted to write not about partner rape - the studies had already done that - but for survivors. I gathered the stories of nine women from around the world, and my co-author, Dr. Patricia Easteal (also a survivor of marital rape), who has written several works about gender violence, gathered twenty more. We fused these brave women's voices with marital rape studies, our own professional knowledge, and available literature of recovery from rape, domestic violence and trauma. In 2006 our book, Real Rape Real Pain: Help for Women Sexually Assaulted by Male Partners was published and launched. Our hope is that readers who have experienced marital/partner rape will know that they're not alone, that what happened to them is a crime and a real wound for which they deserve healing and support.

Article by: Louise McOrmond-Plummer