Where Some People Can Get Away With Rape in the U.S.

June 12th 2015

Laura Donovan

Marital rape has been illegal in the United States since 1993. However, some states have exemptions for certain offenses, and this makes it harder to prove all instances of spousal rape.

Last month, Ohio State Reps. Greta Johnson (D) and Teresa Fedor (D) came together to introduce legislation to eliminate “marital privilege” and the statue of limitations from Ohio rape laws.

"Marital rape occurs when your spouse forces you to take part in certain sex acts without your consent," as defined by the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) on the organization website. "It is a form of intimate partner violence, i.e., an abuse of power by which one spouse attempts to establish dominance and control over the other." RAINN also explains that some studies show that spousal rape can be as, if not more, traumatizing that rape by a stranger -- both emotionally and physically.

Rape, including spousal rape, can also be difficult to prove, and many victims may take a long time to report their assaults -- if they report the assault at all. Because of this, the lawmakers want to remove the 20-year statute of limitations on taking all rape cases to trial.

Though spousal rape is illegal in Ohio, Johnson said proving it can be challenging as outdated references to “marital privilege” are in certain sections of the state law. As noted by the Columbus Dispatch, this term was widely used before society acknowledged that rape is possible between a married couple.

“This is a constitutional response to an unconscionable problem,” Johnson told the publication. "[Sexual assault victims are frequently] denied access to justice and sexual predators are allowed to roam freely. We will not rest until all victims of sexual violence have equal and unfettered access to justice in our state.”

The gray areas of certain state rape laws

Marital abuse, Johnson added, is "underreported" and "often part of a cycle of violence."

"In Ohio, a woman can be drugged and sexually assaulted — legally — if the perpetrator is her spouse," reads a new staff editorial in the Toledo Blade. "In Ohio, marital rape is a chargeable offense only if the perpetrator uses or threatens to use physical force."

Ohio isn't alone; Oklahoma's marital rape law has gray areas as well. Under Section 1111 - Rape Defined: "Rape is an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a male or female who is the spouse of the perpetrator if force or violence is used or threatened, accompanied by apparent power of execution to the victim or to another person." But instances of rape don't always include "force or violence," and it's possible for spousal rape to occur when one person is asleep.

Under Oklahoma law, it's considered rape if the victim is "unconscious of the nature of the act" or "intoxicated by a narcotic or anesthetic agent, administered by or with the privity of the accused," but this doesn't apply to marital rape. As the Daily Beast put it, this means "an Oklahoma resident can penetrate not just a drugged but also a sleeping spouse without the act legally qualifying as rape."

Connecticut has a similar law on marital rape: "No spouse or cohabitor shall compel the other spouse or cohabitor ... by the use of force against ... or by the threat of the use of force."

Rape cases can play out quite differently, and all states should recognize that you don't need to exert use of force on your spouse to commit sexual assault. A woman named Charity shared her experiences with spousal rape in an interview with the lifestyle site YourTango. She told the publication that her husband believed he had a right to have sex with her while she slept since her libido was low during the day.

"Apparently he felt that as his wife I had an obligation to fulfill his sexual needs, and that if I was unwilling while I was awake he would take it while I was sleeping and could not tell him 'No,'" she told YourTango. Unfortunately, Charity's situation might be difficult to charge in states with laws that don't recognize sexual activity with an unconscious spouse to be rape.

If you are the victim of marital rape, and are looking for help you can reach the National Sexual Assault Hotline bye phone at 800-656-HOPE​ or online here.