Recently, an organization (whose name won’t be mentioned so as not to lend a shred of creditability recognition) came to my city to rally and publically endorse marital rape. This appalling demonstration highlights the need for further discussion about a topic often omitted from the list of abuses. As Edmund Burke put it, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
So, what is marital rape? Rape is defined as a sexual assault, sexual intercourse, or sexual penetration against a person and without their consent. Marital rape is the same act except it is performed within the confines of a marriage relationship. Some consider coercion (talking someone into sex after they have said no), manipulation (using methods such as guilt-tripping) or intimidation (bullying, demanding or using force) as a type of sexual assault. It is important to note that it is not the relationship between the two people that determines a rape; rather it is the aggressive act itself.
Why is marital rape a problem? Marriage is a loving commitment between two adults endorsed by either the state or the church. Sex within that marriage is a further demonstration of love and bonding providing unity, intimacy, devotion, and affection to both. The violent nature of rape is the ultimate selfish act where only one person receives pleasure at the expense of the other. It is degrading, debilitating, immoral, and horrifying. It leaves the spouse victim traumatized and intentionally places them in a subordinate role. There can be no closeness or tenderness with such disregard for the welfare of a spouse.
Why does a person engage in marital rape? There are no simple answers for this question and really only the person doing the act knows why. A possible explanation is that they were raped at some point and are now acting out on the safest person they know. They could have a sexual addiction which has escalated into more and more violent acts in an effort to get the same “high.” Or perhaps they have been violent or abusive in other ways and this is just another expression of their inappropriate aggression. Worse yet, they could have a pattern of this behavior inside and outside the marriage. Whatever the reason, rape is about control, power or dominance not love.
What about the spouse victim? It is important to remember that the same therapeutic rules and guidance that is given a rape victim who doesn’t know their assailant also applies here. Rape is not the fault of the victim, the perpetrator is responsible. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other anxiety related disorders are highly common amongst victims and should be treated. In some cases, authorities such as the police may need to be notified and formal legal charges need to be pressed. The victim must erect safe boundaries for self-protection from further acts of aggression. And only the victim has the ability to choose to forgive or choose not to forgive their attacker.
What about the marriage? Marital rape is a deal changer as it forever implants an element of danger, insecurity, and uncertainty. Gone are the days of feeling safe, secure and loved. It is the choice of the victim whether or not to remain in the marriage. And if they do remain, what level of sexual activity is comfortable going forward. The perpetrator forfeited the right to be involved in this decision the moment sex became forced. While it may seem ironic that a moment of aggression results in a lifetime of consequences, this is consistent with rape laws/punishments of most states.
What about the church? I can only speak of the faith that I am familiar with which is Christianity (this is not an indictment of other belief systems). The Christian church as a whole does a poor job of addressing this issue which is best demonstrated through the Good Samaritan parable. Jesus in reply to the question of, “What does it mean to love my neighbor,” tells this story. It is about a man who is beaten up on the side of a road (replace with a rape victim). A priest came by and crossed the street to avoid the man (this is the same as ignoring rape). Then a Levite saw the man and did nothing (this is refusing to stand for what is right). Finally a Samaritan came by, picked up the man, took him to an inn so he could recover, and paid for the expenses (this is the correct response).
Imagine the difference it would make in marriages if the church stopped ignoring marital rape as a problem, took a hard-hitting stance on the immorality of it, and supported victims through their recovery. That is a change worth fighting for.