Research shows that approximately 10-14 percent of married women in the United States have been raped by their husbands. The consequences of such rapes are no less dire just because the perpetrator is a spouse. Indeed, women who are raped by their husbands suffer severe and long-lasting physical and mental health problems.://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/making-sense-chaos/202005/the-bizarre-legal-loopholes-surrounding-spousal-rape
Spousal rape has only been a crime in all 50 states since 1993. And there are still exceptions, it isn’t treated by the legal system as “as bad as” other types of sexual violence. In Virginia, someone convicted of spousal rape can receive counseling instead of jail time to “promote maintenance of the family unit.” In the eyes of lawmakers then, it would be better for a victim of rape and abuse to stay if the family unit can be maintained? Are they hoping this ruling will convince her to remain with an abuser who traumatized her rather than building a healthier life for herself?
In my experience and the experience of many other survivors, counseling for an abuser or couple’s counseling does not work. Not only that, counseling with the goal of keeping you in a harmful situation is re-traumatizing. When I briefly went to counseling with my abusive ex-husband, he berated me in front of the counselor. Then I watched as he manipulated and played mental games with the counselor. Narcissistic abusers can be charismatic and charming when they want to, and they often try to get professionals who might intervene on their side. That includes therapists, doctors, police, and lawyers involved. Along with turning up his charm, the abuser may try to discredit his victim and paint her as unreliable, overly sensitive, or “crazy.” On top of that, it is absolutely normal for someone currently experiencing or recovering from trauma to act in ways that seem irrational. This is one podcast that explains how the “fight or flight” mode affects our brains during those times: https://www.npr.org/2019/11/27/783495595/in-the-heat-of-the-moment-how-intense-emotions-transform-us
And of course, abusers routinely use promises to change along with temporary superficial changes of behavior to convince their victims to stay. For an abuser, counseling can become one of the tools used to make the appearance of a change while still retaining control of their victim.
As late as 2015, the lawyer of the U S. President was recorded saying, “understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”
Talk about lawyers being re-traumatizing. But until 1993, what he said was true. Despite about half of all marriages ending in divorce, while you are in that contract you do not have the right to decide what happens to your own body. You are property.
In my state, marital rape is not a crime if it involves a weapon or aggravated assault- if considerable force is used. My state also does not recognize emotional abuse as grounds for divorce, and requires a year-long waiting period for a no-fault divorce.
So I wrestle with the idea that in my state, what he did does not legally “count” as sexual assault or abuse. The answer to the questions asked in my previous post is No. My experiences do not “count” in the eyes of those who are in a position to decide.
During my years in an abusive relationship, I never even considered calling the police. That includes during the night I spent locking myself in the bathroom because I was afraid of my husband and he wouldn’t let me get my clothes and car keys in order to leave. It didn’t occur to me that I had the right to feel safe inside of my home or to choose to leave it, and that perhaps police could have helped me exercise that.
I have also definitely never pressed charges against my abuser for sexual assault. I don’t have any legal standing there, and I know it. I wish we lived in a world where he would have consequences for what he put me through, but we don’t.
His family, who I have also cut off contact with, does not admit that his behavior was abusive towards me and instead says that he was “depressed” and going through a tough time and needed my support. This is in spite of his family witnessing his rages and times when he verbally berated me in front of them. That is another reminder that it doesn’t “count.”
During my own journey of healing, I have to reckon with the fact that my experiences are not accepted as valid to many. I am not considered believable, even in describing my own experiences. Even when I have nothing to gain and certainly no power to dole out punishment. In identifying myself to my doctor as a survivor of sexual abuse, what I was hoping to gain was healthcare that could address and perhaps explain the physical symptoms I’ve been experiencing. Instead, I’m left wondering if my doctor agrees with the quote above, “by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.” If he felt the need to challenge my description of my own trauma in order to protect the nameless and faceless man who was perhaps being falsely accused, of a crime that doesn’t exist.
The doctor’s visit that I’d hoped would help resolve a medical issue ended up just reminding me about how little power we truly have in some situations.