Perhaps the relaxed social perceptions and laws surrounding spousal rape are fueled by the belief that it is uncommon. Unfortunately, the data says otherwise. Research shows that approximately 10-14 percent of married women in the United States have been raped by their husbands. The consequences of such rapes are no less dire just because the perpetrator is a spouse. Indeed, women who are raped by their husbands suffer severe and long-lasting physical and mental health problems.
The Bizarre Legal Loopholes Surrounding Spousal Rape
Many states still have archaic laws that allow for spousal rape.
The physical effects of spousal rape often include injuries to vaginal and anal areas. Vaginal and anal tearing, pelvic pain, urinary tract infections, miscarriages, bladder infections, infertility, and the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases are often reported among spousal rape survivors (Campbell & Soeken, 1999).
Other bodily injuries are also common. For example, Campbell and Alford (1989) reported that 50 percent of the spousal rape survivors in their study were kicked, hit, burned, or stabbed while being raped. Many survivors go on to report lacerations, soreness, bruising, torn muscles, and broken bones (Adams, 1993).
Also important is the relationship between spousal rape and unwanted pregnancies. Approximately 17 percent of spousal rape survivors in one study reported experiencing an unwanted pregnancy; and 20 percent of those women went on to experience miscarriages or stillbirths (Campbell & Alford, 1989).
The psychological effects of spousal rape are also severe. Indeed, given that spousal rape survivors are likely to experience multiple assaults, and because they are raped by someone whom they once presumably loved and trusted, it should come as no surprise that these survivors suffer extreme and long-term psychological consequences (e.g., Kilpatrick et al., 1988). Common effects of spousal rape include anxiety, shock, depression, suicidal ideation, disordered sleeping, and PTSD (Stermac et al., 2001). Women raped by their intimate partners are actually more likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety than those who are raped by non-partners (Plichta & Falik, 2001). Research has also shown that spousal rape survivors experience more long-lasting psychological effects, with some survivors reporting flashbacks, sexual dysfunction, and emotional pain for several years after the violence (Bennice & Resick, 2003).
Tying it All Together
As COVID-19 confines victimized spouses to the home, it is likely that instances of spousal rape will experience a rise commensurate with increases in overall domestic violence. This should give us pause and provoke a critical examination of the existing legal loopholes surrounding spousal rape. In a perfect world, marriage would embody only the harmony and bliss that we all grew up envisioning for ourselves. But the harsh reality is that some marriages are riddled with emotional abuse and physical violence. In fact, many experts now refer to violent and controlling behaviors in marital relationships as “intimate terrorism.” Perhaps this terminology offers a more apt descriptor for the terror that some spouses experience on an everyday basis. If we widely recognize and condemn the terror of domestic violence, shouldn’t we also denounce the terror implicit in non-consensual sex?
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