I recently became a board member of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Center. I joined the board for a variety of reasons, my interest in women’s rights, my past experience volunteering with a domestic violence organization, and to understand the issue of sexual assault and the affects it has on survivors.
When I went for my interview with two of the existing board members, I was asked to what I thought some of the myths are that surround rape and sexual assault in general. Amongst the many that I could list off the top of my head was the myth that women in marriages or relationships can’t be raped by their partners. As sexual assault is defined as any sexual act performed on an individual without their consent, it has been argued in the past the marriage vows give an implicit consent to sexual acts.
Rape within marriage is very difficult because it is accompanied by emotional, verbal and even physical abuse. The abuser often starts by controlling their spouse’s actions, way of dressing, who they interact with, etc. This makes the spouse emotionally vulnerable to manipulation on behalf of the abuser and allows for the belief that marital vows obligate them to consent to any type of sexual activity and that sex within marriage is available “on demand.” It can also mean that women who become pregnant under these circumstances have no choice over their reproduction. Often the abuser would not allow for an abortion regardless of whether or not they can afford a child or an additional child.
In Japan, for example, women that are married must get consent from their husband in order to access abortion services. One of most famous cases in Canada in regards to abortion is the case Tremblay v. Daigle of 1989. Chantal Daigle’s abusive ex-boyfriend filed a lawsuit to try and stop her from accessing an abortion, Melissa Haussman has written in "Abortion Politics in North America." Ms. Daigle went to the United States to access abortion services when the Quebec Court of Appeals granted Mr. Tremblay an injunction to stop her from having an abortion. His attempt to stop the abortion was not that he wanted to raise the child or be involved in its life, but a last ditch effort to control the actions of a partner that had already fled his abuse.
Being in a relationship does not exclude you from suffering abuse — it in fact may keep you silent about what is really happening because you feel committed to the person that you are with. However, no matter how committed you are in any relationship, it is not okay for your spouse to demand sex from you. For more information on marital rape, please contact you local women’s shelter or sexual assault crisis center.