Marital Rape: New Research and Directions

This document provides an overview of the research on marital rape including a brief legal history of marital rape; discussion of its occurrence; summary of the effects; and an analysis of practitionersí intervention with marital rape survivors.

View Full Resource: PDF PDF | HTML HTML

VAWnet Summary:

Marital Rape: New Research and Directions by Raquel Kennedy Bergen With contributions from Elizabeth Barnhill (February 2006).

In Brief:

Approximately 10-14% of married women are raped by their husbands in the United States. Approximately one third of women report having 'unwanted sex' with their partner. Historically, most rape statutes read that rape was forced sexual intercourse with a woman not your wife, thus granting husbands a license to rape. On July 5, 1993, marital rape became a crime in all 50 states, under at least one section of the sexual offense codes. In 20 states, the District of Columbia, and on federal lands there are no exemptions from rape prosecution granted to husbands. However, in 30 states, there are still some exemptions given to husbands from rape prosecution. In most of these 30 states, a husband is exempt when he does not have to use force because his wife is most vulnerable (e.g., she is mentally or physically impaired, unconscious, asleep, etc.) and is unable to consent. Women who are raped by their husbands are likely to be raped many timesóoften 20 or more times. They experience not only vaginal rape, but also oral and anal rape. Researchers generally categorize marital rape into three types; force-only rape, battering rape and sadistic.

Women are at particularly high risk for being raped by their partners under the following circumstances:

  • Women married to domineering men who view them as 'property'
  • Women who are in physically violent relationships
  • Women who are pregnant
  • Women who are ill or recovering from surgery
  • Women who are separated or divorced

It is a myth that marital rape is less serious than other forms of sexual violence. There are many physical and emotional consequences that may accompany marital rape:

  • Physical effects include injuries to the vaginal and anal areas, lacerations, soreness, bruising, torn muscles, fatigue, and vomiting.
  • Women who are battered and raped frequently suffer from broken bones, black eyes, bloody noses and knife wounds.
  • Gynecological effects include vaginal stretching, pelvic inflammation, unwanted pregnancies, miscarriages, stillbirths, bladder infections, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and infertility.
  • Short-term psychological effects include PTSD, anxiety, shock, intense fear, depression and suicidal ideation.
  • Long-term psychological effects include disordered sleeping, disordered eating, depression, intimacy problems, negative self-images, and sexual dysfunction.

Research indicates a need for those who come into contact with marital rape survivors-- police officers, health care providers, religious leaders, advocates and counselors--to comprehensively address this problem and provide resources, information and support. Those who work in batterers' intervention programs should also work to eliminate marital rape and to comprehensively address sexual violence.

Distribution Rights

This Applied Research paper and In Brief may be reprinted in its entirety or excerpted with proper acknowledgement to the author(s) and VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, but may not be altered or sold for profit.