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Rape in Marriage

NCJ Number
D E H Russell
Date Published
413 pages

This empirical study of wife rape used the experiences of some 100 victims to determine the circumstances and impact of the rapes, and profiles of a number of the husband-rapists are developed along with an examination of the wives' strategies for dealing with violent sexual abuse; also included is a section on the relationship between marital rape and other forms of violence.


Data on the rape victimizations cover where and when they occurred, the modus operandi of the rapists, and the effects of the rape on the victim and the marriage. Included among the findings are that (1) one-fifth of the respondents were still married to the husbands who raped them; (2) often one or more other persons were aware of the rapes; (3) two-thirds of the women were victimized more than once; (4) the average age of the victims at the time of the first rape was 25.5 years; and (5) only nine women raped by their husbands reported the incident to the police (wife rape was not against California law at the time of the research). Overall, the study suggests that a considerable amount of marital sex is close to the rape end of the continuum of abuse. It was found that many men believe their wives do not have the right to refuse their sexual advances, and they persist in having sexual intercourse with their wives even when they know it is unwanted. In some cases, husbands prefer raping their wives to consensual sex. Wife rape is concluded to be a manifestation of a male sexuality oriented toward domination. In the discussion of solutions to the problem of wife rape, it is recommended that wife rape be made illegal. This can be based on empirical findings that wife rape is often accompanied by life-threatening violence and frequently results in prolonged psychological debilitation. Under such persuasive evidence of the damaging effects of spousal rape, it is argued that the marital rape exemption is archaic. The appendixes contain reviews of legal cases where husbands have been accused of raping their wives as well as State-by-State information on marital rape exemption laws. Extensive notes and 53 bibliographic entries are provided.