Sexual Assault Definition
The first legal statement on marital rape occurred in 1736. Sir Matthew Hale, a chief justice in England declared, “But the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract” (Bennice & Resick, 2003). This statement became the basis and foundation for the common-law marital rape exemption. Husbands could not be charged or even accused of committing a rape against their wives. In the 18th century, a husband and wife became one unit and women lost their identities once they married. Rape was viewed as a crime against another man’s property and because a husband could not rape his own property, marital rape was a legal impossibility (Bennice & Resick, 2003). These beliefs were the foundation of the marital rape myth. The first big step against marital rape occurred in 1976 when Nebraska overturned the marital rape exemption (Klarfeld, 2011). The progress continued in 1977, when Oregon became the first state to charge a husband with the rape of his wife (Klarfeld, 2011). New York was the first state to eliminate the marital rape exemption through the judicial process, and the legal progress continued (Klarfeld, 2011). Today all fifty states has eliminated the marital rape exemption, however the fight is not over. Although rape inside a marriage is illegal, convictions are still difficult to achieve. The first obstacle is several states continue to differentiate marital rape from nonmarital rape. The punishments are less harsh, reduced sentences are often given and the rape is not treated as seriously (Klarfeld, 2011). The second obstacle is society’s view on marital rape has not yet caught up. There is a stigma attached to marital rape and it has proven to have a profound effect on juries (Klarfeld, 2011).