On Marital Rape

No matter however physically, financially and mentally strong a woman is, rape is still that one thing about which she is completely helpless. The definition of rape varies in different parts of the world and also keeps changing with time and age. But the most widely accepted one clarifies that rape is a kind of physical invasion mostly involving sexual intercourse or other types of sexual penetration, even if it is slight using one’s body parts or even an object, initiated by one or more individuals against an individual without her/his prior consent.

Although, there are times when consent need not be expressed, and may be implied from the context and from the relationship of the parties, but the absence of objection does not of itself constitute consent. Lack of consent can also be a result of either forcible compulsion by the perpetrator or incapacity to consent on the part of the rape victim if one is asleep, intoxicated or otherwise mentally helpless. Consent can always be withdrawn at any point of time, so that any further sexual activity after the withdrawal of consent constitutes rape.

Rape is an act of physical force, coercion, abuse of authority carried out with someone who is incapable of valid consent.

If any kind of physical or sexual intimacy without one’s prior consent can be termed as rape, then I question, why is it not easy to prove marital rape as an act of rape?

Marital rape or spousal rape is non-consensual sex in which the perpetrator is nobody but the victim’s spouse. Therefore, it is a form of partner rape, of domestic violence, and of sexual abuse. Historically seeing, consent was assumed within the marriage contract, which made spousal rape impossible. But still, marital rape is now repudiated by international conventions and increasingly criminalized.

In the year 2006, it was estimated that this type of rape could be prosecuted in at least 104 countries (in four of them, marital rape could be prosecuted only if the spouses were either judicially separated or divorced). Several countries have outlawed spousal rape. In the US, marital rape was declared illegal in all 50 states till 1993. In many countries, it still is not clear whether marital rape can be prosecuted under ordinary rape laws or not. However, in the absence of a marital rape law, it can be possible to bring prosecutions for what is effectively rape by characterizing it as an assault.

Though, having sex with your spouse after marriage is not unlawful, but under unusual circumstances, if a man engages in sexual intercourse with a woman by means of fraudulent machination or grave abuse of authority, then it should be considered as an act of rape.

When a woman has sex with her husband in the face of threats that are not violent in nature, then interpersonal coercion occurs. Husbands, who threaten to withhold money, have an affair with someone else or become nasty toward the children, are inwardly guilty of interpersonal coercion. The coercive nature of such threats is salient in a marriage where actually a woman’s dependency and powerlessness undercut her bargaining position. Nevertheless, since such threats are not associated with any physical coercion, the sex that follows cannot be regarded as a form of marital rape.

In the Indian subcontinent and also in the Middle East and many gulf countries, an arranged form of marriage is the most widely-accepted form of marriage. The status of the women of these countries is usually not equal to that of the men. As soon as the girls come of age, their parents become restless and impatient about marrying them off to someone they think is eligible enough for her. At times, the consent of girls is not even sought while making as important a decision as their marriage and their will is simply taken for granted.

Mostly, even a healthy interaction between a girl and a boy before marriage or outside marriage is not welcomed by majority of the people in the Indian society. That is why, many times, it is difficult to know or understand the nature of one’s partner before getting into the sacrilegious bond of marriage with her/him.

Marriage has always been known as a sacred institution, but I wonder how much of it exists in today’s time. Practically speaking, it’s no more a “sacrosanct institution” as there are issues within it which have, in a way, shaken the ground basis of the entire union of two individuals. This idea of the “sacrosanct institution” of marriage, dished out by the mainstream Indian cinema, is a myth which is contrary to women’s perceptions of reality.

Not all seemingly successful arranged marriages, are really so. There are times when there is always an unexplored and a predominantly dark side to a socially-sanctioned relationship beneath its superficial goodness.

If taken in the backdrop of the Indian subcontinent and in the conservative pan Indian socio-cultural life, it is true that the Indian women are subjected to domestic violence. Many laws have been changed, shelters and treatment programs have been launched, and documentaries and movies have also been made on the issue, but still, sexual relations within married couples are less discussed and are still, scantily researched issues in India. There is a curious silence surrounding sexual violence towards wives as it is considered as a private issue despite the fact that notion of family rests on the peace and security of women. Widespread sexual abuse or marital rape is still regarded as a tabooed issue.

There are thousands of women who face the wrath and occasional mood swings of their hot-tempered husbands in the form of physical and sexual violence. Women are expected to cope with the temper of their men no matter how much suffering they undergo. At times, some women also take an immense pride in tolerating and over-bearing an undeserving spouse.

This kind of condition of women is not only confined to the families which belong to the lower strata of society, but is also seen amongst many prosperous people. Subjecting one’s wife to extreme sorts of physical and sexual violence is something that a man thinks as his birth right. He satisfies his ego by physically and sexually abusing her. The atrocities of men are not only confined to being sex-starved beasts but are also reflected through their sadism.

Every other house in India can tell the story of a battered wife. Many male chauvinistic prigs (MCP’s) think of rape or any sort of physical/sexual violence as the only way to make a woman kneel down before them. Many of them have sought it as the only way of controlling, shaming and crushing a woman. To add insult to their injury, women are even verbally abused by them. In case if the wives dare to protest against the violence that is meted out to them, they are viciously beaten.

Today, marriage is just not limited to being with the man you love, respect and would like to spend your entire life with, on the contrary, it can also come with its own set of problems, including one of the biggest- that of marital rape – something that has become a stark reality of today’s world or may be, women have only started to speak about it nowadays.

It is true that for a woman it’s not possible to make love with someone she does not love or is emotionally attached with (unless she is a commercial sex-worker), but most men tend to overlook this fact. At times, it’s not easy for people to adjust in their newly-married life due to lack of interaction between them. Some people find it difficult to meet the sexual demands of their partners because of job-stress or a tiresome lifestyle.

Freud says, “sex-drive is the most important motivating force”. It’s feasible to agree with Freud as his ideology very aptly describes why marital rapes are a common phenomenon all over the world.

Women mostly do not voice themselves out of fear of their husband & in-laws or think that it would harm the prestige of their family. And thus, they suffer through and through. No matter how many provisions the constitution has to safeguard the rights of a woman, she does not find her way out of the web of her stifled life. There are many NGO’s that support their cause but nothing can be done in their favor unless their own spouses are inconsiderate towards them. Marital or spousal rapes & domestic violence are the problems which are interconnected and their solutions are also interwoven.

Marital rape is the most common and objectionable form of masochism in Indian society, but it is always hidden behind the iron curtain of marriage. Social practices as well as the legal codes in India mutually enforce the denial of women’s sexual agency and bodily integrity, which lie at the heart of women’s human rights. Be it a stranger rape, date rape or marital rape, I believe rape is rape. The Indian law does not treat marital rape as a crime and even if somehow it does, the issue of penalty remains lost in a cloud of legal uncertainty.

People should not marry off their girl child to someone they have not known well. Women must learn to stick up for them themselves.

According to the American Medical Association (1995), sexual violence (especially rape) is considered as the most under-reported violent crime throughout the world. So women must not bear the burden of an abusive relationship at any cost. The legal system must be forced to accept rape within marriage as a crime. Women must also break free of societal shackles and fight for justice. They must simply refuse to comply with the standards that are applied to them as the weaker sex. Marital rape, like all many other problems of women, needs to be strictly dealt with.

Aditi Swami

The author did her schooling from Sophia (2007) & graduation with honors in English literature (2010). She is a final year student of M.A. (English Literature). She is also an NGO worker at Akshar, Jaipur & teach English to underprivileged kids. Besides, she is a soft-skills & spoken-English trainer working with Jobs Train. She has been appointed to teach English to B. Tech. students at LNMIIT, Jaipur. She is a wannabe academician, an avid reader, an amateur poet, a freelance writer, an amateur photographer, an amateur sketcher & painter. She enjoys swimming, travelling and the simple pleasures in life.