While I am busy with a criminal practice, I still have Family clients as well. And, sometimes, I have a family case that really gets my attention. I got one of those recently. This young woman came to my office and wanted a divorce filed. She had three children, one only a year old. She had a husband who made a lot of money—but this man has a problem. He has a serious problem. He likes to hit and yell. He likes to pin her against a wall and have sexual intercourse with her when she can’t move, cry or hardly breathe. He thinks it is acceptable and does not understand her anger.
"Wife rape" means sexual acts committed without a person’s consent and/or against a person’s will by a woman’s husband. Sexual acts may be committed through physical force against her or threats of force. When a woman submits to sexual acts out of fear or coercion, it is rape. Women raped by their partners are violated by someone with whom they share their lives, homes and usually children. In addition to the violation of their bodies, they are faced with a betrayal of trust and intimacy.
But, sadly, victims of wife rape do not usually see what is being done to them as a violation of their rights. This is not really a surprise, however, since society only recently recognized wife rape as a crime and some people believe that wife rape must be less harmful than stranger rape. As a matter of fact, there used to be an exemption in the law that did not make it a crime if a husband raped his wife.
Living in a household never knowing when your spouse will get angry enough, upset enough, or just lusty enough that he will resort to this violent, abusive conduct made this woman cringe when something out of the ordinary happened. She hated to hear his voice rise above the normal level, when the children had an argument, spilled a drink, broke a glass or just generally acted like kids.
When this lady came to my office, it had been four months since she had been forcefully raped in her own home, with the children in the other room. She had not called the police to make a report. She had not told her father, her mother, her sister, or her best friend. She had shamefully retained this secret information inside. She got up every morning; she helped the children prepare for school; she made her husband breakfast; she smiled as he drove off to work, and probably secretly hoped he would not come home.
The answer to why a woman stays in an abusive relationship is complicated. Many women believe it is part of their "wifely duty" to have sex with their husbands, regardless of how he goes about it. Many women may not have the financial ability to leave their husbands, and then this situation may be complicated by the children. If they are in school, this may entail removing the children from school, packing their belongings, and moving away from their family home.
Other women believe they deserve this disrespectful treatment, that they are such poor wives/mothers that they do not deserve any better treatment. So, they do not tell; they do not report. For those of us who live a fairly "normal" lifestyle, it is difficult to even imagine what a horrible life this must be. Abusive physical or emotional violence is demeaning and insulting. The recipient of such conduct gets beat down. The idea of self-confidence, incentiveness, happiness, carefree fun is no more.
But the question in everyone’s mind remains: Why stay there—why not leave? That was my first question, but I already knew the answer. I knew that any person, any woman, in this type of abusive relationship becomes too afraid to move, to talk, to report the crime to the police. After all, it really has not been that long ago that women were just property of their husbands, chattel, and the idea was that sexual intercourse can never be rape because the husband is merely making appropriate use of his property.So the reasons range from children, guilt, fear, pride, embarrassment, financial dependence, or a combination thereof. A woman can get locked into a violence cycle.
But today, in our generation, spousal rape is a crime. Any sexual intercourse without the consent of the other person is rape. This crime is a felony. If convicted, this husband could go to prison for twenty years. Still, the wife still has to overcome the discriminatory belief that wife rape is not as bad as stranger rape.
My client went to therapy; she put herself and her children in a safe place. She got a job to support herself and her children. And, she went to the police. Guess what the police told her? This fine, upstanding officer said, "We need evidence"—"proof" that this happened.
Not so with wife rape. The officer insinuated to this woman that he most likely would not file charges unless the wife had some "proof" that the event actually happened. This proof could be photographs of bruises or other injuries to the body itself. In my client’s case, she spoke with her husband over the telephone while recording the conversation, and he stupidly admitted the rape.
So this case may have a happy ending. This woman is young enough to benefit from serious counseling, her children will grow up without this violence in their home, and she has the chance to regain her sense of self esteem. Her husband, hopefully, will have an opportunity to get counseling in prison.