Is There Such a Thing as Marital Rape?

Marital rape or spousal rape is non-consensual sex in which the victim is legally married to the perpetrator. It is a form of partner rape, intimate partner violence and sexual abuse. Marital rape can be committed by either partner and occurs in both heterosexual and homosexual marriages. Any person who uses force, threats, violence or other means to coerce their spouse to have sex without consent commits rape. Other forms of intimate partner violence including other physical abuse and stalking often accompany marital rape.

Victims of marital rape suffer the trauma shared by all victims of rape, but that trauma is often compounded when the perpetrator of the assault is their partner, who is also often their co-parent. The belief that spouses are required to submit to sex or that marital rape doesn’t exist, the effects reporting marital rape may have on children and the possibility of family shame and embarrassment may preclude someone from seeking help or reporting marital rape.

History and laws

Today in the US, marital rape is illegal in all 50 states, though the laws and penalties surrounding marital rape vary from state to state. It’s a bit surprising to note that before the 1970s, marital rape was legal in every state. Nebraska was the first state to completely outlaw marital rape in 1976. Until 1976, every single state in the US had a “marital exemption” that allowed a husband to rape his wife without fear of repercussions. In 1978, the court case Oregon v. Rideout became the first case where a man stood trial for raping his wife. By 1993 marital rape was a crime nationwide with Oklahoma and North Carolina being the last two states to officially name it as a crime. But even while it was officially outlawed, most states still looked at marital rape as wholly different from non-marital rape. It was, and sometimes still is, often seen as less serious, and penalties were less harsh. Laws continue to evolve, with most states reforming their laws even further into the 21st century.

Statistics on Marital Rape

  • It’s estimated that 10 to 14% of married women are raped by their spouses during their marriage.
  • 18% of female victims of spousal rape say their children witnessed the crime.
  • Only 30% of all rape victims ever report their assault to the police. When it comes to married women, that percentage drops sharply.
  • Marital rape is the most underreported form of sexual assault.

Though considerable progress has been made since the 1970s, unfortunately, many Americans still do not believe that marital rape is actually rape. However, it very much is and if you or someone you know is being raped by their spouse, we’re here with care and resources for you whenever you’re ready.


The Greene County Family Justice Center is a nonprofit collaborative of local agencies offering comprehensive services to survivors of domestic, sexual, and family violence. Our services are trauma-informed, survivor-centered, and we welcome survivors at any point in their process. We partner with local non-profit service providers as well as local law enforcement, the Prosecutor’s office, and Children’s Division to make victim services more accessible and completely voluntary. If you do not want to participate in the criminal justice process, we support you.

Our vision is a future where we all work together to meet the needs of domestic violence and human trafficking survivors through comprehensive and accessible services, education and perpetrator accountability. Through a coordinated framework and co-located response, we strive to break the vicious generational cycle and community impact of domestic violence and resulting victimizations.

We can help you plan for your safety whether you plan to stay in the relationship, or you are actively trying to escape. All of our services are free, confidential and survivor centered. Have questions about what services are available? Visit us at 1418 E. Pythian Street or give us a call at 417-874-2600. We are open 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday. For after-hours assistance, call the Harmony House/Victim Center’s 24-hour safe line at 417-864-SAFE (7233). If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.