Ohio Might Finally Make It Illegal to Rape Your Spouse

One woman testified about being turned away by police when she reported her husband raped her: “Why should him being my husband have any difference?”

Ohio Might Finally Make It Illegal to Rape Your Spouse
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On Tuesday, an Ohio woman testified before the state House about her experience with spousal rape and law enforcement’s refusal to help her. Per Cleveland.com, the woman said that while she struggled with postpartum depression, her husband repeatedly raped her. But when she filed several police reports, police insisted that what she’d experienced wasn’t rape. “I told him to stop over and over again. I lost count how many times this happened to me,” she said. “Why should him being my husband have any difference?”

The woman testified in support of a new bill, HB161, meant to close a decades-old loophole that legally permits some forms of spousal rape. The bill passed out of committee on Tuesday and would amend an archaic piece of the state code that presently makes it illegal to drug then sexually assault someone—unless you’re their spouse. Per Cleveland.com, the same spousal exemption in place “also applies for lesser sexual crimes including sexual battery, sexual imposition, and gross sexual imposition.”

State Rep. Jessica Miranda (D) has said Ohio is one of just 11 states that continue to provide marital exceptions to rape. “This is not happening in dark alleys, this is not happening because victims are in ‘the wrong place, at the wrong time,” Miranda said earlier this year before introducing the bill. “This is happening in homes, where everyone should feel safe and secure.” To Miranda’s point, poor protections for marital rape victims stem from a misconception that sexual violence is primarily perpetrated by overtly violent strangers in the streets. But most victims know or have personal relationships with their attackers. HB161 would allow victims who are drugged and raped by their spouse, or subjected to the other aforementioned forms of abuse, to testify against their perpetrator and recognize the acts as illegal.

In 1986, the Federal Sexual Abuse Act criminalized marital rape on the federal level, though, as recently as 2010, a survey published by Sage found 19% of police officers from 11 police departments said they were unlikely to believe a married woman who claimed she was raped by her husband. As Mother Jones reported a few years ago, in a handful of states, including Ohio, it’s remained legal for someone to drug and rape their spouse. In 2021 California closed its marital rape loophole and Mississippi passed a similar law earlier this year.

Ohio lawmakers have been trying unsuccessfully to close the loophole since 1985, per an article from the Cleveland State Law Review. In 2018, a bill like HB161 also passed out of committee—but died on the vine when it was never brought to the floor for a vote. At the time House Majority Leader Bill Seitz (R) voted against that bill, but Seitz voted in support of HB161 this week. He expressed concern this week that it could inexplicably “criminalize the consensual sexual contact short of rape or battery that might occur when both spouses are under the influence of alcohol or drugs and one of them later claims victim status”—which… it would not. Back in May, Seitz suggested the bill was too broad by making “sexual imposition” from a spouse illegal, per the Ohio Capital Journal. But in any case, he told Cleveland.com “only time [would] tell” if the bill goes too far but won’t oppose it for the time being. (Seitz has previously been accused of sexual harassment and in 2021 tried to obstruct legislation to protect survivors of child sexual abuse in the church.)

In addition to the Ohio woman who testified about surviving marital rape and being turned away by police, numerous survivor advocates offered impassion testimony in support of the bill. “The reality is married persons did not and do not forfeit their right to bodily autonomy because they got married,” Kasey Holderbaum of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network said, per Cleveland.com. “A person’s legal relationship to the person who harms them should never limit their options.”

HB161 will now go to the House floor and, should it pass, to the state Senate.

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