The words ‘marital rape’ never even occurred to me until it happened to someone I care about. It’s not only hard to hear it happened to her, but it’s frustrating when you feel powerless to do something about it; especially when she tells you in confidence and you don’t want to betray her trust. What do you do with this kind of information? What do you do when she feels too embarrassed to even talk about it, simmering in her own feelings of denial, betrayal, anger, guilt and shame?
Hearing this from someone I know who refuses to tell anyone else (but me) made me wonder how many other women out there are too ashamed or embarrassed to tell their stories about being raped by their own partners. As an outsider looking in, it was easy for me to say, “You have to report it. It’s a crime!” But the emotional and mental impact of the experience were too harrowing for her to even discuss it.
“I don’t want to cause any trouble,” she said. I couldn’t believe my ears especially when she said her husband already raped her thrice. The first two times, she fought him. But he was much stronger than she is so he was able to force himself on her. “The third time,” she said, “I was just too tired to fight. I just lay down and closed my eyes.” Later, he had the guts to ask her why she had been so quiet all day.
She then asked him, “You knew I didn’t want to, why did you still do it?” His response was, “Because you’re my wife and I love you very much.”
This woman is highly educated and the hardest working person I know. She’s been through a lot in life and I have strong admiration for her inner strength, resilience and tenacity, and for what she achieved in life. So, how does something like this happen? The only answer that my mind could manage to provide was that, rape does not discriminate. It could happen to anybody regardless of gender, race, age, social status, etc. And it certainly could happen to those in long-term committed relationships.
Before this incident, this woman was becoming increasingly unhappy in her marriage. She and her husband did not have kids and she was the breadwinner between the two of them. She earns a helluva lot more money than her husband, and in between 72-hour shifts, she still did all the cooking and cleaning while her husband “did his thing.” But like many people who stayed for far too long in an unhappy relationship, she didn’t know how to end it. She found a job in a foreign country, perhaps in an unconscious attempt to get away from her husband, but ended up living in a place where her safety was threatened a few times. So, out of fear, she asked her husband to join her. How ironic, I thought, that the very man she expected to protect her ended up being the one who harmed her.
The blurred lines of non-consensual sex
Being too close to the situation, I decided to ask someone I trust for advice. She told me to take certain actions that I was already planning to do anyway but were pushed back out of respect for this woman’s wishes to keep it between us. Then she asked me one thing: “What did she do to make him behave like an ass?” I was shocked. Do people really still think this way? It was like asking a rape victim, “Were you wearing slutty clothes? Because if you were, you were asking for it.” In my opinion, even if this woman did something, whatever it is, her husband has NO RIGHT to assault her sexually.
In 1991, the House of Lords in the UK ruled against a marital rape, stating: “Nowadays it cannot seriously be maintained that by marriage a wife submits herself irrevocably to sexual intercourse in all circumstances.” In the US, it became a crime in all 50 states in 1993 and most countries have done the same over the years (although, shockingly, there’s still a number of them where marital rape is still considered legal).
But even then, many people still don’t believe that rape can occur within marriages and committed relationships. For example, in the UK, the Violence Against Women Coalition commissioned YouGov to conduct a survey of 4,000 people on public attitude towards rape and sexual violence.
It showed alarming results that “24% think that sex without consent in long-term relationships is usually not rape.”
Marital rape is a silent crime
According to an article on rebelcircus.com, “Researchers from the National Online Research Center on Violence Against Women estimate that 10 to 14 percent of married or formerly married women have experienced at least one forced sexual assault by a husband or ex.” It further stated that “only 16 percent of rape victims ever notify law enforcement about the incident. Women with little sexual experience and/or knowledge are more inclined to believe forced sex in a marriage is normal and do not report it as a crime.”
Many years ago, I was talking to a woman who just got married to one of my neighbors. She told me how, during their honeymoon night, she was unsure if she wanted to have sex with him given that she hasn’t done it before. She was, if I remember it correctly, over the age of 20 but came from a very conservative background. She said she was afraid because she didn’t really know what to do or what to expect so she started to push him away and said no. Her husband punched her hard on the thigh which caused her so much pain that she was unable to fight him off while he forced himself on her. I was very young at that time, but I remember thinking, “That is not right. Why does she talk about it as if it’s normal?”
Perhaps it’s the lack of education about the subject of marital rape (or any other type of sexual assault for that matter) that leaves a layer of confusion in our society about what it is, why it happens and if such thing really exists. People still believe that when someone is in a long-term relationship, rape is not possible; that if someone says yes once, they can never again say no, which means, it is okay even if it’s done against their will.
Sex, even within the sanctity of marriage, if not consensual, is rape.
I can’t help but agree with this description of marital rape in a document shared by Australian-based SECASA: “He wants it. She doesn’t. He wins.” Violence need not be involved in the process (although, as this document shows, in many cases it is).
Being married to someone doesn’t give you property rights over their body. Being married to someone doesn’t give you the right to have sex whenever you want to even if your partner doesn’t. Marriage doesn’t give you a free pass to all-the-sex-you-can-have buffet. Sex is not an obligation. It’s an act to which both parties need consent. So, no means no, even when it’s your wife that says it.