U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Marital Rape: History, Research, and Practice

NCJ Number
Trauma, Violence, & Abuse Volume: 4 Issue: 3 Dated: July 2003 Pages: 228-246
Jennifer A. Bennice; Patricia A. Resick
Date Published
July 2003
19 pages
This review of the literature on marital rape highlights its seriousness in terms of prevalence and posttrauma distress, as well as the limitations of extant research; barriers to treatment and recommendations for professionals are also included in the discussion.
The literature review is restricted to an examination of marital rape in the United States. Over the past two decades, with the substantial influence of advocates, States have changed their laws regarding marital rape. In 1986 the Federal Sexual Abuse Act criminalized marital rape on all Federal lands. On July 5, 1993, marital rape became a crime in at least 1 section of the sexual offense codes in all 50 States. By 1996, 16 States had completely repealed their marital rape exemptions, and 33 States had partially repealed their exemptions. Although legal reforms have helped victims define and report their experiences as well as seek legal recourse, marital rape is still not legally handled as though it is as serious as other forms of rape. The widespread cultural belief that marital rape is not "real" rape has invalidated victims' traumatic experiences and limited the identification of these crimes and the provision of services to victims. Marital rape is as prevalent as other forms of rape and is prevalent among battered women. Marital rape victims often experience multiple traumatic experiences, putting them at greater risk for severe posttrauma distress. It results in serious medical, emotional, and mental health consequences for its victims. Still, marital rape victims are reluctant to report their victimization to the authorities and seek help because the typical victim has been exposed to lengthy abuse and control within her intimate relationship, which places her in a mental state of helplessness. Also, an implicit threat of violence often looms over battered women, so raped wives may fear retaliation by their abusers if they seek help. Medical professionals should routinely and sensitively assess for marital rape, especially when physical and psychological abuse within a marital relationship is suspected. 66 references and 5 suggested future readings