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When Did Marital Rape Become a Crime?

Throughout history, women have had to fight for their basic rights to be recognized, including ownership of their own bodies. In the past, it was thought that when a woman married, she gave her husband complete authority over her, including her body. It wasn't considered possible for a man to rape his wife, because upon marriage she had given irrevocable consent. It wasn't until the 1970s that laws started changing to make marital rape illegal.

What is marital rape?

Marital rape is committed when a person forces their spouse to take part in sexual acts without their consent. It is still rape if consent is obtained by coercion or out of fear. Though opinion polls reveal that many people consider marital rape to be less harmful than rape by a stranger, research shows the opposite is actually true. Because they are being betrayed by someone they trusted, women who experience marital rape often experience more and longer-lasting trauma than victims of stranger rape. Additionally, they often don't consider what they experience to actually be rape, instead blaming themselves for being misleading or for not enjoying forced sex because it's their "wifely duty."

How common is marital rape?

According to surveys, 10 to 14 percent of women who have ever been married have experienced forced sexual assault by their husband or ex-husband. Women who experience marital rape are much more likely to have been assaulted more than once. At least a third of women surveyed who experienced marital rape reported it occurring over 20 times during the course of their relationship.

When was marital rape made illegal?

Throughout most of history, marital rape was not considered a crime. It was thought that when a woman married, she gave all authority over her body to her husband, and could no longer retract her consent. Usually laws defined rape as forced sexual intercourse by a male with a "female not his wife."With the advances in women's rights that women fought for in the second wave of feminism, states began removing the marital exemptions from their rape laws in the 1970s. In 1993, North Carolina became the last state to remove the exemption and make marital rape illegal.

Is marital rape illegal in the United States today?

Marital rape is now illegal in all 50 states. However, it is still treated differently than stranger rape in many states. For example, a husband is still exempt from prosecution in several states if he rapes his wife while she is mentally or physically impaired, unconscious, or asleep. Many states also have shorter reporting periods and less jail time for a man who rapes his wife as opposed to a stranger.

Feminist activists have been fighting since the mid-20th century and continue to fight today to change the laws to recognize marital rape. Thanks to these activists, marital rape is now illegal in all 50 of the United States, and the laws are continually being updated to remove discrepancies and exemptions.

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