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Making Marital Rape Visible: A History of American Legal and Social Movements Criminalizing Rape in Marriage

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Abstract

This study examines the history of marital rape and related topics in the United States within the broader context of women’s legal and political rights. The project demonstrates the interplay between women’s activists, legislators, the criminal justice system, and an involved public necessary to change both societal and legal views on spousal rape, and eventually its criminalization in all fifty states. Concentrating on approaches to criminalizing marital rape in three of the fifty states, this dissertation provides a reasonable representation of the existence of the marital rape exemption in America, arguments used to maintain the exemption, and various methods used to end this form of gendered violence and gender discrimination accepted in this country until the 1970s. It explores key issues relevant to the social and legal history of spousal rape in the United States: the rise of domestic violence and sexual assault movements that began in the late 1970s and the promulgation of rape shield laws, which provided evidentiary protections for rape victims during trial. Ultimately, this project demonstrates several of the important victories that women made in areas of personal autonomy over their bodies, which led to the criminalization of rape in marriage. Over the course of nearly one hundred and fifty years, social and legal attitudes toward spousal rape – actually, sexual assault in general – resulted in greater legal protection for the rights of married women. The elimination of the marital rape exemption, better trained law enforcement, increased services provided by advocates, and a more informed public all contributed to increased visibility about the existence of marital rape and active responses to that crime. Advisor: Margaret Jacobs

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... That same common law also established the provision of legal exemption for men accused of raping their wives (Ross, 2015). A seventeenth-century treatise written by Chief Justice of the King's Bench, Matthew Hale, first outlined the legal impossibility of rape in a marriage by stating that within the bounds of marriage, men had the right to any and all sexual relations with their wives. ...
... A seventeenth-century treatise written by Chief Justice of the King's Bench, Matthew Hale, first outlined the legal impossibility of rape in a marriage by stating that within the bounds of marriage, men had the right to any and all sexual relations with their wives. This exemption traveled into the early American courts, and remained in place until 1977, when Oregon became the first state to remove common law martial rape exemptions (Ross, 2015). ...
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... An obvious example would be the legal invisibility of marital rape until recently. 101 Children are the most vulnerable members of society, and it is therefore not surprising that widespread violations of their bodily or sexual integrity might be carried out by more powerful actors-in this case, adults, including doctors-without these violations being widely recognized. ...
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In many cultures, children with intersex traits are subjected to medically unnecessary genital operations in an attempt to reshape their sexual anatomy to approximate a more stereotypical male or female appearance. In addition to these surgeries, there are three main patterns of medically unnecessary genital operations performed on non-intersex children across the globe. In the first pattern, the dominant culture endorses routine or religious genital cutting only of boys, as in the United States, Israel, Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia, for instance. In these cultures, girls are ineligible for genital cutting, or may be seen as deserving protection from it. In the second pattern, neither boys nor girls of the dominant culture have their genitals cut unless there is a strict medical indication—which in these contexts is rare. This is the prevailing pattern throughout Europe and indeed most other parts of the world. In the third pattern, both boys and girls of the dominant culture have their genitals cut for non-medical reasons, for example, in the context of a rite of passage or religious initiation. Typically, this occurs around puberty, but the timing ranges from right after birth to before marriage. In this chapter, I present a moral argument in favor of the second, “European” pattern, both as a matter of ethics and gender equality. I do not discuss legal implications. In other words, I argue that, morally speaking, neither boys nor girls who are too young to consent should have their genitals cut—to any extent—unless it is medically necessary to do so, whether or not they have intersex traits. The alternative, from a gender equality perspective, would be to argue that both boys and girls should have their genitals cut on an equal basis, for example, by a doctor using sterile instruments. But from an ethical perspective, I argue, this would not be acceptable.
... Marital rape unfortunately exists in every society. In the US, sexual coercion within marriage was banned in all 50 states by 1993 [1]. Still, marital rape charges are hard to prove, and consent to sex within marriage for each sexual encounter is a concept that remains elusive. ...
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This chapter looked at the experiences of marital rape among immigrant South Asian Muslims domestic violence survivors who are living in Texas, USA. Based on qualitative interviews with 20 participants, this chapter discusses the hidden nature of marital sexual abuse. Specific themes include: abuse took place in a larger context of domestic violence; duality in sexual behavior allowed for husband and wife; submission through threat and intimidation; it is not rape but, I feel the same as a rape victim; shame of talking about something so private; and divorce and vulnerability from sexual advances by outside men. Implications to advocates and human service workers, especially those living in Western countries and work with Muslim communities are discussed, as well as how to effectively assist these diverse communities in a culturally sensitive manner, being mindful of their religious background.
... New Zealand criminalised marital rape in the year 1985. All these countries have criminalised marital rape, but this only took place reasonably recently; however, this represents a victory for feminists' and symbolises a significant achievement in promoting increased public awareness in the area of women's personal autonomy over their bodies (Ross, 2015), In this context, China has a long way to go to challenge the patriarchal notions of wife being a husband's property. ...
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