The truth about intimate partner sexual abuse

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Virginia State Senator Richard “Dick” Black’s views concerning spousal rape have been in the media spotlight recently, as he runs for Virginia’s 13th district seat in the House of Representatives. 

In 2002, Black was quoted espousing a whole host of myths about sexual assault, saying:

“I do not know how on Earth you could validly get a conviction of a husband-wife rape where they’re living together, sleeping in the same bed, she’s in a nightie and so forth, there’s no injury, there’s no separation or anything.”

Unfortunately, Black is not alone in failing to recognize the seriousness of this crime: the most common myth about spousal or intimate partner rape is that because the couple is used to having consensual sex, forced sex is not as traumatic as stranger rape. The reality is that rape by the person the victim should most be able to trust is profoundly damaging precisely because of the betrayal of trust. The perpetual threat to safety that comes from having to live with one's assailant undermines the victim’s emotional and physical health. Acute, long-term depression, numbing, anxiety and despair are more prevalent in victims of marital rape than in those who are raped by strangers or abused, but not raped, by a partner. With respect to the claim that there are no injuries, some victims sustain acute injuries during the rape, and many sustain chronic damage to their health because the rapes are repeated.  

In addition, according to research conducted by Dr. Jacqueline Campbell at Johns Hopkins University, perpetrators of domestic violence who subject their victims to both sexual and physical abuse are more than twice as likely to murder their victims as perpetrators who subject their victims to physical abuse alone.  

Despite this, before 1976 prosecuting charges of marital rape was legally impossible; the standard legal definition of rape was the “carnal knowledge of a woman not one’s wife by force or against her will.” Because the US justice system began to take domestic violence seriously at a time when marital rape was not a crime, marital and intimate partner sexual abuse were all but invisible to the courts. While the complete marital rape exemption has since been eliminated from all state, federal, and military law, several states still retain special qualifications for marital rape charges, such as short reporting periods and a requirement that the couple be living apart. (Click here for a report on current laws.)

For decades, Legal Momentum has been at the forefront of raising awareness about the harmfulness of marital and intimate partner sexual abuse, and fighting to secure justice for victims. Legal Momentum’s National Judicial Education Program is the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women’s Technical Assistance Provider on addressing this issue, and has written an extensive web course, Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse:  The Hidden Dimension of Domestic Violence Cases for judges and others about it. For an overview of the web course click here. To access the full web course click here.

NJEP has also created comprehensive resources on this issue so that you can educate yourself and your community about marital and intimate partner rape. Raising awareness about the seriousness, prevalence, and harmfulness of this issue is crucial to ensuring that victims get the justice they deserve.  

Here are inks to some of Legal Momentum’s resources on Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse (IPSA):