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Holly

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Marital and Intimate Partner Sexual Assault
February 1, 2006

Intimate partner sexual assault is that committed by a current or past spouse or boyfriend. Forced intercourse within a marriage is often called "marital rape." Historically, marital or intimate partner rape was not considered a crime. In many countries, including the United States, rape was traditionally defined as forced sexual conduct with someone other than one's wife. As a matter of law, rape could not occur within a marital relationship; the consent of the wife to the sexual contact was presumed. From Battered Women's Justice Project: Marital Rape, Raquel Kennedy Bergen (March 1999).

Legal systems continue to reflect the belief that rape within a marriage is not rape. A UNICEF publication noted that, as of 1997, only seventeen countries around the world had explicitly made marital rape a crime. From Charlotte Bunch, The Intolerable Status Quo: Violence Against Women and Girls, in UNICEF, The Progress of Nations (1997). In some countries in the CEE/CIS, marital rape is still excluded from the definition of sexual assault. In Serbia, for example, rape is defined as "the act of forced sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who are not married." From International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Women 2000: An Investigation into the Status of Women's Rights in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States (9 November 2000). A similar provision was recently eliminated from the Criminal Code of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The laws of many countries both in CEE/CIS and around the world implicitly exclude marital rape from the definition of sexual assault by providing that the perpetrator may be exonerated if he later marries his victim. In Romania, complaints for sexual assaults other than those committed by more than one person or against a minor "shall be dismissed if, before the ruling has been declared definitive, the marriage intervened between victim and the perpetrator." A similar provision was recently eliminated from the Hungarian Criminal Code, after "a heated and wide-ranging debate." From International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Women 2000: An Investigation into the Status of Women's Rights in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States (9 November 2000).

Such laws illustrate clearly the principle that men are assumed to have unlimited sexual access to their wives, thus negating the existence of rape and sexual abuse within marriage. From World Health Organization, First World Report on Violence and Health (2002).

Many countries continue to place additional legal limitations on women's protection from rape within marriage. For example, in some parts of the United States, married women have a shorter time period within which to bring charges against their husband for rape. As described in a paper by Kersti Yllo, the "restricted time frames for reporting marital rape rest on the premise that wives will fabricate rape charges in order to advantage themselves in divorce proceedings if not legally prevented from doing so." From Kersti Yllo, Marital Rape.

In some countries in CEE/CIS, while marital rape is not excluded from the definition of sexual assault, prosecutions for marital rape can be commenced only on a complaint by or with the approval of the victim, even when such complaint or approval is not otherwise required. In Croatia, for example, the Criminal Code prohibits coercion "to sexual intercourse or an equivalent sexual act" but provides, in addition, that "f the perpetrator is married to the person against whom the criminal offense referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article is committed, criminal proceedings shall be instituted following a complaint." In Macedonia, if a sexual assault "is committed against a person with whom the offender lives in a marital or permanent partnership, prosecution is undertaken upon a private suit." In the Czech Republic, as well, while rape victims are not required to file a complaint to initiate an investigation, "the Criminal Law . . . states that the approval of the victim is necessary if the woman was raped by her husband or partner." The approval of the victim is also required in cases of attempted rape. Legislation to amend this provision of the Criminal Code has been brought before the Czech Parliament. From International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Women 2000: An Investigation into the Status of Women's Rights in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States (9 November 2000).

Even when marital rape is not explicitly excluded from the statutory definition of sexual assault, it is often excluded in practice. Dorothy Thomas and Robin Levi report that marital rape is prosecuted and punished less often and less severely than are other crimes, in large part because of assumptions that women are complicit in or in some way provoked the assault. In the Czech Republic, while marital rape is not excluded from the provisions of the Criminal Law that criminalize sexual assault, "in practice the police rarely take such offenses seriously and it is difficult to provide the relevant evidence unless the victim is seriously injured." Victims of marital rape in Ukraine similarly face "even greater indifference and mistrust on behalf of law enforcement officials and the pressure of traditional views according to which sexual 'duties' are part of marriage." From International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Women 2000: An Investigation into the Status of Women's Rights in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States (9 November 2000).

In a number of countries in CEE/CIS, even where the law does not officially allow a rapist to avoid prosecution if he marries his victim, in practice, the victim's family will often pressure her to marry the rapist and withdraw the charges of sexual assault. In Armenia, "[f]amilies and victims of rape usually try to force the perpetrator to marry the victim because rape victims will have less chance of marrying later." In Uzbekistan, while marriage of the victim and the perpetrator is not enough to discontinue the case, "n practice though, offenders escape criminal prosecution when all sides collude to arrange the marriage of the perpetrator and victim." From International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Women 2000: An Investigation into the Status of Women's Rights in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States (9 November 2000).

Research has indicated that the police response to marital rape is also inadequate. One study described by Raquel Bergen found that "when police officers learn that the assailant is the woman's husband, they may fail to respond to a call from a victim of marital rape, refuse to allow a woman to file a complaint, and/or refuse to accompany her to the hospital to collect medical evidence." In investigating sexual violence in Russia, Human Rights Watch similarly found that "[t]he police are particularly likely to reject complaints of sexual violence from married women and single women who have been sexually active. In order to discourage these women from seeking redress, the police often suggest that their complaints are frivolous or groundless."

In part, the lower penalties that apply to marital rape are founded on the myth that because the husband and wife already have an intimate relationship, the act of forced intercourse is less traumatic for the victim when it occurs within a relationship. As Yllo argues, however, "[t]he shock, terror, and betrayal of wife rape are often exacerbated rather than mitigated by the marital relationship." Bergen's research indicates that victims of marital rape appear to suffer particularly severe psychological consequences. From Kersti Yllo, Marital Rape, Battered Women's Justice Project; Raquel Kennedy Bergen, Marital Rape (March 1999).

The myth that the absence of physical injuries or resistance on the part of the victim indicates consent is particularly damaging in the context of intimate partner assault. Often, the response to sexual violence by an intimate partner involves "appeasement" coping or survival strategies. These strategies?such as giving in or avoiding one threat by submitting to a less harmful one?are frequently used by the victims of intimate partner sexual violence, for a number of reasons:

Women found that trying to talk their husband out of it was ineffective and that running away and hiding brought about broken doors. Some did threaten to leave, some did leave temporarily, some did leave and divorce, and some did use violence. But, overall, the decisions to choose appeasement over outright resistance revolved on several perceptions: the perception of the husband's strength, the presumption that if the wife resisted she would be hurt even worse (especially if there was a history of battering), that resistance prolonged the assault, that appeasement protected the children, that unless she was ready to leave she would have to face the man again, that it was good to "keep the peace," and that she believed herself to be wrong, at fault. From Carol J. Adams, "I Just Raped My Wife! What Are You Going to Do About It, Pastor"?: The Church and Sexual Violence, in Transforming a Rape Culture 57, 76-77 (Emilie Buchwald et al. eds., 1993).

Often, though not always, sexual assault by intimate partners is accompanied by other forms of domestic violence. Sexual assault that occurs in an abusive relationship is called "battering rape." In "battering rape," sexual assault is one of the abusive behaviors used by a batterer to maintain establish and maintain power and control over his partner. "Women are often raped as a continuation of a beating, threatened with more violence if they fail to comply with their husband's sexual requests, or forced to have sex to oblige the abuser's need to 'make up' after a beating." From Carol J. Adams, "I Just Raped My Wife! What Are You Going to Do About It, Pastor"?: The Church and Sexual Violence, in Transforming a Rape Culture 57, 65 (Emilie Buchwald et al. eds., 1993). Research indicates that men who both batter and rape are more likely to severely injure or kill their wives.

Although marital rape and domestic violence are often associated, researchers also emphasize the need to recognize the existence of "non-battering rape." In part, it is necessary to understand marital rape as a problem distinct from domestic abuse "because for many women who are battered and raped, the sexual violence is particularly devastating and that trauma must be addressed specifically by service providers." Further, women also experience sexual assault in their intimate relationships even in the absence of other forms of violence. One study found that forty percent of the women questioned had experienced "force-only rape," in which their husbands used only the amount of force that was necessary to coerce sexual contact, but did not otherwise batter their wives. From Raquel Kennedy Bergen, Marital Rape (March 1999).

Adapted from Patricia Mahoney, Linda M. Williams & Carolyn M. West, Violence Against Women by Intimate Relationship Partners, in Sourcebook on Violence Against Women 143 (Claire M. Renzetti, Jeffrey L. Edleson, and Raquel Kennedy Bergen eds. 2001); The National Women's Health Information Center, Violence Against Women; U.S. Department of Justice, Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Research Report (2000); Carol J. Adams, "I Just Raped My Wife! What Are You Going to Do About It, Pastor"?: The Church and Sexual Violence, in Transforming a Rape Culture 57, 65 (Emilie Buchwald et al. eds., 1993); Raquel Kennedy Bergen, Marital Rape (March 1999).
 
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The myth that the absence of physical injuries or resistance on the part of the victim indicates consent is particularly damaging in the context of intimate partner assault. Often, the response to sexual violence by an intimate partner involves "appeasement" coping or survival strategies. These strategies?such as giving in or avoiding one threat by submitting to a less harmful one?are frequently used by the victims of intimate partner sexual violence, for a number of reasons:

Women found that trying to talk their husband out of it was ineffective and that running away and hiding brought about broken doors. Some did threaten to leave, some did leave temporarily, some did leave and divorce, and some did use violence. But, overall, the decisions to choose appeasement over outright resistance revolved on several perceptions: the perception of the husband's strength, the presumption that if the wife resisted she would be hurt even worse (especially if there was a history of battering), that resistance prolonged the assault, that appeasement protected the children, that unless she was ready to leave she would have to face the man again, that it was good to "keep the peace," and that she believed herself to be wrong, at fault.

This part really stood out to me. How sometimes someone will do almost anything to keep some kind of peace. How the mind almost becomes numb to certain things, like some kind of apathy. Or that one can somehow separate one's body from one's mind at times to survive.

And sometimes maybe there is guilt involved because of unexpected kindnesses.

I think sometimes leaving someone who is abusive is a process. First you have to realize you're being abused. Then, somehow you have to believe that you don't deserve it and there's help and hope out there. It seems there are so many steps, if only in the mind, before you get to the actual leaving.

Interesting article.
 

foghlaim

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This part really stood out to me. How sometimes someone will do almost anything to keep some kind of peace. How the mind almost becomes numb to certain things, like some kind of apathy. Or that one can somehow separate one's body from one's mind at times to survive.

Janet from personal experience i can tell you that the above quote is most certainly true.

great article Holly. very intersting reading how other countries laws differ from country to country. like i said in another post, here in Ireland, marital rape was even considered a crime until some years ago.

thanks for the article, hopefully in time to come these countries will realise how wrong they are to deny maried women the same rights as umarried ones.
I also hope that those countries where the victims parents force the perp to marry the the victim, will cometo their senses and stop this vile act.

nsa
 

ThatLady

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I think another thing one must learn is that those "unexpected kindnesses" aren't kindness, at all. They're manipulative actions.
 

Halo

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Janet said:
How the mind almost becomes numb to certain things, like some kind of apathy. Or that one can somehow separate one's body from one's mind at times to survive.

I too have to say that this sentence really struck me as well. For me it brought up specific images in my mind which of course make me feel uncomfortable and I thank you Janet for that post. It shows me that even though I think that I am "over" dealing with certain issues, they truly never do go away.
 

Holly

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Nancy said:
Janet said:
How the mind almost becomes numb to certain things, like some kind of apathy. Or that one can somehow separate one's body from one's mind at times to survive.

I too have to say that this sentence really struck me as well. For me it brought up specific images in my mind which of course make me feel uncomfortable and I thank you Janet for that post. It shows me that even though I think that I am "over" dealing with certain issues, they truly never do go away.

Hi everyone,
That quote reminded me of the times I felt numb to certain things, like the body's way to cope was to separate yourself from anything traumatic.
It can be truly amazing how we do survive, overcome in time so many different things that can happen in one's life time.
Take care
 

foghlaim

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I beliece we survive and cope thru all thathappens to us because we have to, and we find ways thru or around the problems that sometimes "get to us". Sometimes there is nothing we can do only make it thru the day, and that's what counts, making it thru each day , somehow.
Finding this forum i have to say was the single most influencing place\ppl that helped me to keep going, and still is.

so thank ye allfor all the support and advice i have received and will recieve again when i come to need it..(i always need it lol )

nsa
 
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Sometimes there is nothing we can do only make it thru the day, and that's what counts, making it thru each day , somehow.

I think this is SO true. Lately I'm only making it through the day, nothing extra. Surviving. But that's good enough for now.

And thank you for all the support and caring you give, and kind words. :)
 

Halo

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I think that surviving is a great thing to accomplish in a day because I just think of the many people that don't survive :cry:
 
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That is true, Nancy. I hope to one day be able to focus on my blessings and look at each day as a gift instead of just something to get through.
 

Halo

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Janet we just have to hold on to the hope that it is possible. That is what I do. Just hold on (sort of like your cat avatar) hanging on for dear life. :)
 

Holly

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Nancy said:
Janet we just have to hold on to the hope that it is possible. That is what I do. Just hold on (sort of like your cat avatar) hanging on for dear life. :)

Hi Janet, Nancy,
Your both survivors, we all have days we may forget, let me remind you I did also, I thought I would not survive.
We all have a way to survive, it may work at different times, sometimes we do not even know it is surviving that we are truly doing.
We will survive, thrive, find peace, laugh, be supports to each other, just like tonight!
We are more than survivors, we are remarkable women!
Take care
 

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