marital rape | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Criminal Law

Marital rape is a rape committed by a person who is married to the victim.

Marital rape is a type of rape in which the perpetrator is the spouse of the victim. For a long time, marital rape was not recognized as a crime, and it was commonly believed that a husband had a right to engage in sexual activity with his wife, regardless of her consent. However, this view has changed over time, and marital rape is now recognized as a crime in most jurisdictions.

Rape regardless of marital status is a violation of the victim’s bodily autonomy, and it is a serious crime that can have lasting physical and emotional effects on the victim. In many cases, the perpetrator of this crime uses physical force or threats of violence to coerce the victim into engaging in sexual activity against their will. However, marital rape can also involve coercion through emotional or psychological means, such as threats of harm to the victim or their children or the use of emotional manipulation to make the victim feel guilty or ashamed.

Marital rape laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but in general, they treat marital rape in the same way as any other type of rape. The elements of the offense are typically the same, requiring that the perpetrator engages in non-consensual sexual activity with the victim through the use of force, threats of harm, or coercion. However, there may be some differences in the way that marital rape cases are prosecuted or punished.

In some jurisdictions, marital rape is classified as a separate offense from other types of rape. This is because there may be unique factors at play in such rape cases, such as the dynamics of the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. However, in most jurisdictions, these rapes are treated the same as any other type of rape, and the perpetrator can face the same penalties, including imprisonment, fines, and registration as a sex offender.

One of the challenges in prosecuting these cases is the issue of consent. Because the perpetrator is married to the victim, there may be questions about whether the victim gave consent to engage in sexual activity. However, the fact that two people are married does not automatically mean that there is consent to engage in sexual activity. In many cases, this occurs in the context of an abusive or coercive relationship, where the victim is not able to freely give their consent. In these cases, the lack of consent is the key element of the offense.

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Last Modified: 04/10/2023


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