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Know the Laws:

UPDATED June 21, 2012

Marital / Partner Rape

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Basic info about marital / partner rape

back to topIs it rape if my husband or boyfriend forces me to have sex?

Yes. Any time someone forces himself on you sexually without your consent, this can be sexual assault or rape. Even if you’re married to or in a relationship with the person who is assaulting or raping you, it is real rape and real assault.* Relationship rape is not uncommon: at least 7.7% or women will be sexually assaulted by an intimate partner (including husband) in their lifetime.** Sexual abuse is a common form of domestic violence and one that many women are often ashamed or embarrassed to talk about. Please know that you have the right to say “no,” even to your husband, and you have the right to expect that he listen to you. If your spouse or dating partner is making sexual contact that you do not want and have not agreed to, he is sexually assaulting you. If he is forcing you to have sexual intercourse, he is raping you.

Note: although the specific legal definitions vary by state, generally most states recognize unwanted and nonconsensual sexual contact to be sexual assault and forced sexual intercourse to be rape. For specific information on your state’s sexual assault and rape laws, contact your local rape crisis center, which can be found here: http://centers.rainn.org/.

* Pandora’s Project (http://www.pandys.org/articles/intimatepartnerrape.html)
** Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) (http://www.staralaska.com/scripts/maritalrape.asp)

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back to topAre there different requirements to prove sexual assault or rape against a spouse than a stranger?

Possibly – it depends on your state. While marital rape is now illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, it might still be treated differently than non-spousal rape in some ways. For example, in some states, if you’re married to the abuser:

  • You may have a shorter period of time to report the sexual assault and/or rape after it has happened; and/ or
  • You may have to show that your spouse used more force than if you had not been married to him/her (for example, that he/she caused you bodily injury or used some sort of weapon).*

Not all states have these differences. In order to find out more specific information about your state, please call a local rape crisis center, which can be found: http://centers.rainn.org/. Even if you are unsure about your state’s specific law, you can report it to the police anyway.

* The National Center for Victims of Crimes: Spousal Rape Laws: 20 Years Later. (http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentViewer&DocumentID=32701)

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back to topDoes marital / partner rape only happen in violent relationships?

No. It can happen in any relationship. The unwanted sexual contact does not necessarily need to be physical or violent. Instead, it can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces you to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. The assault and/ or rape could happen once or many times, and may occur in a non-violent relationship that is otherwise respectful. However, that doesn’t make the behavior okay. It is still sexual assault and/or rape.* So, just because your significant other treats you well in other areas of your relationship, it does not mean that he is not sexually assaulting or raping you.

Although sexual assault and/ or rape can occur in non-violent relationships, it is more common in relationships that also have other violent and abusive behaviors. For example, it is estimated that rape occurs in up to 70% of relationships where there is domestic violence. So, if you are in a relationship where there is domestic violence, you should consider also whether or not you are being sexually assaulted and/ or raped.**

* Pandora’s Project (http://www.pandys.org/articles/intimatepartnerrape.html)
** Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) (http://www.staralaska.com/scripts/maritalrape.asp)

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WomensLaw.org would like to thank Louise McOrmond-Plummer for inspiring us to create this page and for her input.

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