Marriage does not mean consent. However, many people believe that when a marriage has been solidified, both partners no longer need to consent to sexual relations each time they occur. This is simply untrue; marital rape is illegal in all 50 states. Unfortunately, as with other types of intimate partner violence (IPV), marital rape disproportionately impacts women, and although all forms of IPV are distressing for women, research shows that rape by an intimate partner is associated with more severe distress than other forms of IPV.
Incidence of Marital Rape
Approximately 10–14 percent of women report having experienced sexual coercion by their spouse at some point in their marriage. Sadly, the actual incidence of marital rape is probably higher because many women are hesitant to make a report due to the stereotypes surrounding consent within marriage. Women often think “who will believe me?”
Physical and Psychological Impact
Coerced sexual activities are a violation of the mind and the body, and as a result, many women experience intense mental, emotional, and physical distress. Some of the most common symptoms experienced after marital rape are:
- Post-traumatic stress and shock
- Nightmares and flashbacks
- Fear of retaliation
- Trouble sleeping
- Suicidal thoughts
- Poor body image and negative ideas about self
- Trouble trusting others
- Physical injuries
When the perpetrator is a spouse, many women may feel that they are responsible for the assault, or that they do not have the right to say no; also, it is common for women to fear retaliation from their spouse if they decline sex. When sex within marriage is forced, many women feel that they are inadequate sexually or otherwise, leading to a heightened risk for depression, anxiety, and poor self-image. Furthermore, women often feel conflicted about having romantic feelings for their spouse following an assault, and as a result, many women experience shame and guilt surrounding these experiences and thus are hesitant to reach out for help. Despite what stereotypes exist, there are people who are willing to help women navigate these experiences and access the appropriate resources: See a local therapist or in case of an emergency, call a crisis hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.