Vows of Silence

Lucy Tu, Opinions Editor

“For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.” These vows of marriage are some of the most sacred to any person. They are rules defining an unbreakable bond of love. However, with these vows comes a new set of rules with much worse connotations.   

For too long, there has been an unspoken rule stating that what happens at home, stays at home. There is an idea that someone else’s marriage is none of our business, in any situation. These factors have lead to the issue that is marital sexual assault, which is a widespread problem that is not discussed enough.

Those who are misinformed state that there is no such thing as ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’ within a marriage or relationship. However, marriage vows do not mean a spouse has automatic rights over his or her partner’s body. Nowhere in a marriage vow does it state that sexual consent is a given. Assuming so is what prevents victims from speaking up, because they fear not being taken seriously.

In countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Jordan, there are laws that expressly permit spousal sexual abuse. For instance, laws in Ghana explicitly state that “consent given by a spouse at marriage cannot be revoked,” at any time. In India, one in three men admit to forcing their wives into sexual situations and face no legal repercussions, as it is not considered a crime.

However, this major issue is not contained to less developed countries. The U.S. also lacks the much needed focus on the serious gravity of sexual assault within a partnership.

In the U.S., discussions on the illegalization of marital rape did not begin until the 1970s, and it was not until 1993 that all 50 states had laws explicitly criminalizing the act.

Even in recent years, some states maintain discrepancies between their general and marital sexual assault laws. Tennessee, for example, classified spousal sexual abuse as illegal only if a weapon was involved, up until 2005.

Currently in Oklahoma, a spouse cannot charge his or her partner with rape if it was done while they were unconscious or under the influence of drugs, even if the drugs were administered without their knowledge.  

Luckily, some lawmakers are seeking change. In Ohio, state representative Kristin Boggs recently sought to eliminate Ohio’s spousal sexual abuse exemption laws.

“It’s appalling and disgusting,” Boggs said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News. “There is no legitimate basis whatsoever for any laws in Ohio to condone such horrific activity.”

At this point in time, Ohio has laws similar to Oklahoma, allowing spouses to avoid conviction in a drug-rape scenario. Additionally, certain loopholes exempt sexual abuse cases where partners live together. House Bill 561, proposed by Boggs and other representatives on Mar. 12, aims to eliminate these exemptions.

Movements like #MeToo and Times Up justly highlight sexual assault within the workplace environment. However, we must shine a spotlight on the horrific issue that is sexual abuse within a partnership. The fact is that marital sexual assault has detrimental emotional repercussions similar to any other kind of sexual assault. The lack of coverage and discussion on this issue is almost as frightening as the idea of this abuse continuing silently into the future.

This delves into deeper issues of sexual assault within a relationship. Just because the abuser is your husband or  wife, does not mean it is excusable. In the end, it doesn’t matter who is doing the crime. Sexual assault is sexual assault no matter the perpetrator, and we must speak up. We cannot allow marriage vows to turn into vows of silence.