“My Husband Raped Me” – Understanding Marital Rape
Violence against women is as old as time itself. Riding on the back of religion and cultural norms and traditions, women have been subjected to some of the cruelest and inhuman ordeals in life, including female genital mutilation, defilement, inequalities, etc. In order words, any act that brings about physical, sexual and/or psychological or emotional torture and suffering to women will constitute violence against women. Statistics from the World Health Organization  indicates that globally, an average of 1 out of 3 women would have experienced some sort of violence (physical or sexual) from a sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. One of such violations of the fundamental rights of women is rape.
Rape is defined as the “unlawful sexual intercourse or any other sexual penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person, with or without force, by a sex organ, other body part, or foreign object, without the consent of the victim.” . What this definition does is that, it presents a situation where only males can rape females due to the clause of penetration. However, the basics of this is that without consensus in the case of sexual union between people of legal age to sex then it will be interpreted as rape. On a prima facie determination, one can easily understand why unsolicited sexual intercourse or penetration between people of legal age outside marriage will be rape. However, we tend to nullify the act in the context of marriage as rape. Hence, many countries, societies and individuals do not believe and accept marital rape.
Marital rape for that matter refers to unsolicited, unwarranted or unconsented sexual intercourse or sexual penetration by the sex organ, other body part or a foreign object within the confines of marriage. Statistics on marital rape is very difficult to come by mainly because women do not report it and partly because the society has presented marriage as a ground where the man can have sex at any time he wishes. Consequently, about 53 states including Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana and Malawi do not prosecute marital rape . Until 2007, Ghana’s Criminal Code 1960 (Act 29), Section 42g allowed for consent given for marriage to mean consent to sex throughout the marriage. Fortunately, this error was corrected in the Domestic Violence Act of 2007 (Act 29) and the Revised Criminal Code 1960 (Act 29), Section 42g . So as it stands now, it is criminal in Ghana for husbands to have unconsented sex with their wives.
Marital rape is becoming a great concern for social and sexual activists around the world. This is because this phenomenon does not happen as a one-off event but a pattern in marital unions. This behaviour is deeply rooted and reinforced by cultural beliefs, values, norms and inclinations. For years, patriarchy has sold the story that it is the right of husbands to have sex at any time they want it irrespective of whether the woman consents or not; whether she is in the psychological frame to have sex or not. The long believed ideology has been that women must submit wholeheartedly to the sexual whims, craves and desires of their husbands. Unfortunately, women have also believed in this patriarchal dogmatism and lies for centuries. Thereby, losing their self-identity in the process and succumbing to the dictates of patriarchy. Hence, they do not report marital rape because they, as women do not even believe in the concept of marital rape.
Another reason why marital rape has gone on for years but have received little attention is because of the doctrine of implicit consent to sex in marriage. Many people, particularly Christians, believe that in marriage, there is an everlasting implicit consent to sex, therefore, the concept of marital rape will not hold in marital union. Often, they quote some texts from the New Testament to support their view. One of the most used verse is found in 1 Corinthians 7:4,5 which reads that, “4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” Clearly, this text reinforces the belief that there is nothing like marital rape for both the man and the woman are not to deprive themselves of sex unless they both consent to stay away for some time. Therefore, from the biblical perspective, marital rape will only happen when after mutual consent to stay away from sex, one party forces the other to have sex. And this totally contrary to the definition of marital rape.
Spouse who are raped in their marriages go through physical sufferings and psychological trauma that can affect their sexuality for the rest of their lives. Physically, because there was no consent to sex, the woman does not secret fluids that will wet the vagina for easy penetration. Hence, after the rape, they suffer bruises and cuts along the vulva, clitoris and vagina due to excessive friction from the penetration. Marital rape can also lead to unintended pregnancies and increase the tendency for marital abortions. Psychologically, it can lead to a situation where women become genophobic or coitophobic, that is, they become scared of sexual intercourse. According to the WHO , women who are raped are twice more likely to be depressed, stressed as well as become more anxious and have suicidal ideations. Hence, for the rest of their life in the marriage, they are likely not to reach orgasm or enjoy sex.
Marital rape is real and happening in many marriages. Domestic violence activists, social justice institutions, NGOs, CSOs, the government and private individual and organizations should take advantage of the technological advancements like the social media and mass media to sensitize and raise awareness about marital rape. Women who have been raped in their marriages must gather the courage to seek counselling and psychological support. Men who have been involved marital rape must be reported and dealt with accordingly to the full length of the law. Countries and states that have not criminalized marital rape must make amendments to criminalize marital rape.
Department of Population and Health, UCC.
- World Health Organization (2020). Violence against women: Key facts. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/.../detail/violence-against-women
- Dictionary.com (2020). Retrieved from: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/rape.
- United Nations (2008). A Brief Overview of Recent Developments in Sexual Offences Legislation in Southern Africa. Retrieved from: https://www.un.org/...Paper%20(Karen%20Stefiszyn).pdf
- Archampong, E.A. (2010). Marital Rape – A Women’s Equality Issue in Ghana.
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