Law prohibits marital rape

National law makes it illegal for someone to use violence, the threat of violence, or coercion to force their wife or husband to have sex.  According to the definition provided by the Inter-agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises, this can include the invasion of any part of the body with a sexual organ and/or the invasion of the genital or anal opening with any object or body part. Efforts to rape someone that do not result in penetration are considered attempted rape (2010).

In Bangladesh, for example, the law prohibits rape and physical spousal abuse, but it makes no specific provision for spousal rape as a crime.  This distinction must be clearly stated in the legal statutes in order to be counted for this indicator.

Verification of national law stating that it is an offence for anyone to coerce another into a sexual act by using force or threat of harm, even if they are legally married to that person.

Evaluators may want to disaggregate by sex.

Penal codes; special statutes; court decisions

Those who have been raped by their spouse experience pain, humiliation and distress.  Marital rape prevents individuals from being able to take control of their own sexual and reproductive health.  In addition to the emotional and psychological effects, it causes public health problems including poor maternal and child health, repeat-infections with sexually-transmitted infections, and long-term exposure to the risk of HIV infection.

The right to be free from coercion and violence in relation to sex is a human right that is defined in several regional and international laws (i.e. the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa).  However, when a national law fails to recognize this right within the context of marriage, those who suffer this form of violence have nowhere to go.

This indicator is used to gauge the political attitude toward discriminatory legislation, such as extending legal impunity for marital rape.  A law specifically prohibiting marital rape provides an initial indication of a country’s policy environment around sexual and gender-based violence.

Marital rape laws can be highly misleading with regard to what authorities actually tolerate. Enforcement of laws varies by country and is often weak and inconsistent, especially in rural areas.  In cases that are filed, governments may infrequently prosecute.  Although a law may have been revised to acknowledge marital rape and make it a punishable crime, there may still be additional barriers for spousal rape victims such as different reporting requirements, different standards for burden of proof, and different definitions for spousal rape.

women's status, policy, empowerment, violence

Prevailing gender stereotypes makes it difficult to afford marital rape the same legitimacy or validity as other forms of sexual violence.  The belief that a husband has a right to sex, and has a right to use his wife’s body for this purpose, along with the idea that women aren’t supposed to enjoy sex, but just put up with it, prevents successful prosecutions of marital rape where the question of consent is clouded by societal beliefs about marriage.  Beliefs rooted in traditional religious teachings (e.g. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc.) have also served to perpetuate the problem of marital rape by putting extreme emphasis on a wife's responsibility to please and to be subordinate to her husband, and by urging her to stay with him no matter what (Kiffe, 2010).  Cultural attitudes are slow to change and in societies with rigid gender roles, the recognition and persecution of all forms of rape will take time.

Inter-agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises. 2010. Inter-agency Field Manual on Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Settings: 2010 Revision for Field Review.

Bangladesh Woman, January 30, 2010. 

African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), Policy Brief No. 13, 2010, Marital rape and its impacts: A policy briefing for Kenyan members of parliament.

Kiffe B.  Marital Rape.  Dakota County Sexual Assault Services, 2010.