Wed | Sep 19, 2018

Why a man can rape his wife

Published:Monday | November 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Opinions about marital rape appear to have split along gender lines. Men argue that they should be entitled to have sex with their wives whenever it suits their fancy. For what else is the purpose or benefit of marriage, if not to have consistent access to sex that is also sanctified by God?

Women argue that they should have the right to say no, even to their husbands. Men are pleased to quote scripture pointing out that a marriage is union in which two become one, and of course there's the adage, 'What's yours is mine.' Women, however, would like to think that they maintain control over their bodies even in marriage.

What both sides of the argument miss is the difference between sex and rape. The discussion about marital rape is not about a man's right to have sex with his wife, nor is it about a woman's right to say, "No, honey, not tonight."

Power and pain

It bemuses me how the issue of sex has usurped the conversation about rape, when rape has absolutely nothing to do with sex. A man does not rape because he wants sex, for there are obviously much easier ways of obtaining it. A man rapes to assert power and dominance, to humiliate, to hurt and to punish. While the objective of sex is pleasure and procreation, the objective of rape is pain and power. So although the physical act of penetration is the same, the psychological act is diametrically different.

A woman knows the difference between being raped and having sex, just as a child knows or is taught the difference between a good touch and a bad touch. One is innocent and welcome; the other is a crime.

Rape is an act of violence. In a relationship, it is akin to domestic violence. There are men who use rape, just as they would a beating, as a method of physically asserting their dominance in the relationship, while reminding the woman of 'her place'.

If a man beats his girlfriend and then forces her to have sex with him against her will - for few women would want to have sex after being beaten - could he not be charged with assault and rape? If a man beats his wife and then forces her to have sex with him, are those not the same crimes? Should he not be charged with both assault and rape? Or should, as one gentleman asserted to me, the wife simply accept the rape as part of the beating?

Under the Sexual Offences Act 2009, marital rape is confined to very specific situations. A husband can only be accused of raping his wife if they are separated, divorce proceedings are pending, a restraint order has been issued against him, or if he knowingly suffers from a sexually transmitted infection. These conditions should be removed to allow for a charge of rape even when the marriage is intact.

During the debate on marital rape in the House of Representatives, former Justice Minister Delroy Chuck posited that a charge of marital rape would result in the immediate collapse of the marriage, and that the possibility of reconciliation would be zero. This is not necessarily the case, although, in my opinion, it ought to be.

Possible reconciliation

If marital rape is viewed through the context of domestic violence, it is immediately evident that many women, even after reporting their husbands to the police for domestic violence, return to the abusive home. The possibility for reconciliation, therefore, does exist, usually after the husband apologises and vows never to do it again. Relationships are complicated.

There is also the argument that marital rape should not be criminalised because it could allow vindictive wives to lie about their husbands raping them. The possibility of the complainant lying about her alleged abuser has always been a concern in the discussion about rape. Indeed, there are men whose lives have been irreparably damaged by false accusations of rape. However, no one has ever argued that because of this liability, rape should be decriminalised. Likewise, this is not a solid argument against the expanded criminalisation of marital rape.

It is time that we advance the discussion about marital rape beyond the assertion that what happens in a married couple's bedroom is their business. It is evident that sexual abuse within a relationship - and even in marriage - is a legitimate issue. It must not be swept aside.

n Kalilah Enriquez is a broadcaster. Email feedback to and