One year ago, domestic violence was dominating the news following the Ray Rice scandal. Due to the former Baltimore Ravens player’s NFL star status and video documenting his assault in an elevator of then fiancé Janay, the media coverage ran non-stop and the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft trended heavily on Twitter.
A year later, the public voices of support for victims of domestic violence may have waned, but the staggering number of victims dealing with abusers every day remains too high. More work needs to be done.
As we observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month again this October, we hope to shine a light on another ugly and often misunderstood aspect of domestic violence – marital rape and partner rape.
Large Percentage of Domestic Violence Victims Are Also Sexually Assaulted
While it may be difficult to grasp the concept of rape between two people who initially chose to be a couple, consensual sex can turn to non-consensual sex (rape) when domestic violence enters a relationship. And the incidence of sexual assault on a spouse or intimate partner in an abusive relationship is probably higher than you think.
In a 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 9 percent of women said they have been raped by an intimate partner.
According to Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support CEO Jan Langbein, “Sexual assault in an intimate partner relationship is a leading indicator of lethality, and 70 percent of victims who are physically battered also say they have been sexually assaulted.”
Rape by an intimate partner doesn’t discriminate either. “Partner rape is just like stranger to stranger rape in that it affects victims of all socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities and ages. It’s all about power, control, humiliation and degradation of the victim by the batterer,” explains Jan.
Marital Rape Is Considered a Crime in Texas
According to Dallas Divorce and Family Law Attorney Aubrey Connatser, “In Texas, any non-consensual sexual contact where one spouse compels the other spouse to engage in sexual penetration against his or her will is considered marital rape. This includes situations where the victim is mentally incapable of giving consent (unconscious from using drugs or alcohol or in a coma).” See Texas Penal Codes § 22.011 and 22.021.
Many victims of marital rape or partner rape also have a difficult time viewing sexual assault by their partner as a rape.
“If you ask a client, ‘Have you ever been raped by your spouse?’ the likely answer is going to be ‘No,’ because they often don’t see it that way. However, if you ask the same client, ‘Has your spouse forced themself on you sexually, you said no, and then he or she forced you to have sex anyway?’ – the answer might be different,” Aubrey says.
In cases of marital rape or partner rape, it can be more insightful to gather data by asking more open-ended questions instead of asking about the conclusion.
As Aubrey explains, “Many people aren’t aware that marital rape (or rape between intimate partners) is a crime. People who have been living in an abusive relationship often feel they did consent, because they had to have sex in order to keep themselves safe. That’s still a sexual assault, and a lot of people don’t realize that’s the case. For family law attorneys, it’s important to ask the right type of questions.”
Sexual Assault Can Be More Difficult to Process Than Physical Abuse
In many ways, partner or marital rape results in a cycle that is similar to the cycle typically found with physical domestic abuse, where the victim struggles to remain firm when standing up to the batterer. However, for some, moving on from a sexual assault can be more difficult than moving on from physical violence.
“Certainly the trauma of physical abuse lingers, but the trauma of sexual assault can be even more devastating. The victim often ends up dealing with more psychological and emotional issues, which generally can be more difficult to navigate,” Aubrey finds.
For Some, Partner Rape Can Leave Deeper Scars than Stranger Rape
“Unlike stranger rape, partner rape is probably not a one time event between the victim and perpetrator. The rapist can jump out of the bushes any time he or she wants to. In addition, studies reveal that the partner rape experience carries longer and more grave effects than stranger rape,” says Jan.
In her many years as a Dallas divorce lawyer, Aubrey has always encouraged counseling for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and says, “I will connect the client with a therapist or victim services like Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support, where a therapist who specializes in these issues can help them process what they are going through, because it can be so loaded and heavy.”
These steps can help victims become stronger and be better able to handle the process of dealing with their batterer – whether they are seeking a divorce, a restraining order or need help with another legal or emotional issue.
Survivors of Domestic Violence Should Take These Steps
Along with seeking support and counseling from shelters such as Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support or a therapist, Aubrey encourages victims and survivors of domestic violence to take the following steps when they are safely able to do so:
1. Call the police. If your spouse, partner or anyone else physically or sexually assaults you, call the police and ask for help immediately.
2. Take photos of your injuries. “It’s important to preserve any evidence of the assault,” says Aubrey.
3. Record a voice memo during the assault. “I’ve had clients grab a phone and hit record on the voice memo feature during an assault,” Aubrey adds.
4. Go to the hospital. Tell the doctor you were raped and have a rape kit prepared, just as if you were assaulted by a third or non-related party.
5. Get a protective order and the abuser removed from the home. According to Aubrey, “If there’s been a pattern or history of violence, and it’s also happened in the past 30 days, your family law attorney can help you get a protective order or emergency ex parte protective order. If the ex parte protective order is granted, you can also get the abusive spouse removed from the marital home and do so without a hearing.”
6. Create a safety plan. Domestic violence survivors should put a safety plan in place for themselves and their children. A safety plan may include stashing away some money, clothes, a phone, extra car keys, passports, I.D.s and other important paperwork in a safe place outside the home.
Learn more about safety planning on the Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support website.
7. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224. You can also visit the NDVH website at http://www.thehotline.org/. In addition, teens can contact the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474 or TTY 1-866-331-8453 or visit www.loveisrespect.org.
You can reach the Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support in Dallas – 24/7 – at 214-946-4357. Hearing or speech impaired women can dial 711.
8. Learn more about escaping an abusive relationship and your legal rights in this post from last year: Meredith Vieira, Janay Rice, Rihanna – Why They Stayed, How You Can Leave.