Studies indicate that between 15 and 25 percent of all married women have been victims of spousal rape, and some scholars suggest that this type of rape is the most common form in our society, says Women’s eNews. The so-called “marital rape exemption” has been embedded in the sexual assault laws of the U.S. since its founding. In its most drastic form, the exemption means that a husband, by definition, cannot legally rape his wife. The theory goes that by accepting the marital contract, a woman has tacitly consented to sexual intercourse any time her husband demands it.
All 50 states now criminalize spousal rape, but remnants of the marital rape exemption are still present in many states’ laws. Most states, like California, for example, define spousal rape as a separate (and lesser) offense than stranger rape. Women’s eNews tells the story of Regan Martin, an Illinois woman whose husband brutally beat and reaped her. He accepted a plea bargain that put him in prison for 19 months, well under the average rape sentence of 5 years. Martin is working with U.S. Rep. Debbie Halverson (D-IL), to draft a bill that would prohibit prosecutors from offering plea bargains to alleged spousal rapists.