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IS THERE SUCH A THING AS MARITAL RAPE?

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It is often argued that there’s no such thing as marital rape. It is not recognized by law in Nigeria, it is not indicated as a sin in the bible or other holy books. A lot of people, especially men, believe that bodily integrity does not exist in marriage. Most Christian men would often quote 1 Corinthians 7:3-4: The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife to support this belief. It is true that marital rape isn’t recognized by law in Nigeria….yet, but the fact that it isn’t a punishable crime yet is not an indication of its absurdity but of the current reality of our justice system and, the need for a very serious attention to be paid on the subject. The only question that needs answered is this, should the fact of marriage eliminate the need for further consent to sex? As for Christians, the scripture above should not be used to justify coercion, insensitivity, violence, etc. What the passage teaches is that each spouse is to willingly, freely, lovingly submit to the other. The passage is about giving satisfaction, not demanding it. The focus is on pleasing one’s spouse. There is no selfishness involved. Forcibly taking what has not been offered is wrong and plainly against the Bible’s commands on love and marriage.

Marital Rape is defined as any unwanted sexual acts by a spouse or ex-spouse, committed without consent and/or against a person’s will, obtained by force, or threat of force, intimidation, or when a person is unable to consent. These sexual acts include vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Victims of spousal rape face unique challenges. Emotionally and psychologically, rape within a marriage is received differently from stranger or even acquaintance rape. Sex is meant to be a unifying and beautiful event in marriage, not a venue for violence and coercion. Because of the intimacy of the marriage relationship, wounds from spousal rape can be broader than wounds from a more distant relationship. All over the world, the legal acknowledgement of spousal rape is relatively new. Some countries, like ours, for example, still do not recognize the possibility for rape within marriage and this is mostly due to the dynamics of our social structure. Historically, sex has been seen as something husbands always desire and to which wives must always submit. Others have believed that marriage is implicit consent to sex at any time. While some countries criminalized marital rape earlier than 1970, most Western countries did not discuss marital rape in their laws until the 1980s and 1990s.

As is often the case,  marital rape is more likely to be a pattern within a marriage than a one-time occurrence. It is also likely that other forms of domestic violence are present in relationship where marital rape exists. It is one of the most under-reported violent crimes because it is socially tolerated. Marital rape happens frequently, causing health problems, pain and distress to the victim. Children in households where marital rape occurs aren’t left unaffected by it because they also often suffer from the psychological effects of witnessing the effects on the parent, and because it can undermine the ability of their mothers to care for them.

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.

If anyone has made sexual contact with you without your consent, please seek help. If you are currently in danger of being forced to have sex, or if forced sex is an established pattern between you and your significant other, please remove yourself from that situation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with leaving and seeking help, medical care, counselling, etc. The emotional and psychological implications of spousal rape can have long-lasting effects. The raped spouse should not feel pressured to return to the partner without first receiving extensive input and counsel from licensed counselors, and trustworthy friends who understand the situation. Spiritually, victims of marital rape and other forms of sexual violence may doubt God’s goodness and His trustworthiness. Learning to feel safe with God, coming to believe that He is loving and gentle, and coming to trust Him might take time. However, He is willing and able to bring healing. Do not be afraid to take that time, or to walk beside someone who is asking hard questions about their faith. 

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. It is also important to work to eliminate marital rape and to comprehensively address sexual violence.

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