What about Marital Rape?

I thought of writing this post a while ago, when students of mine were talking about marital rape as if it was a futile subject to tackle, claiming that women have the obligation of satisfying their husbands’ sexual needs (‘sex is a wifely duty’), that their own desire and consent do not matter, that God created women to be submissive to and obey men in every aspect of their lives, that what happens in a home is seen as private family business, etc. More than what Ms. Randa Berri said few days ago – ‘Marital rape cannot be proved, thus cannot be criminalized’ -, I am strongly concerned about the pervasiveness of patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted stereotypes regarding the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family (i.e. wives are the property of their husbands and marriage contract is an entitlement to sex), in the workplace and in society, of many Lebanese citizens. I am also concerned about the lack of information and accurate documentation in our academic establishments (schools and universities) regarding gender-based violence in all its forms.

Also, there are no established national monitoring indicators or tools and no national survey dedicated to gender-based violence. Research on the performance of NGOs on gender-based violence is rare. Furthermore, there are gaps in understanding the financial, logistical and cultural barriers preventing the prosecution of gender-based violence. There is no common national understanding, even no common definition between NGOs, of what are marital rape, domestic violence, economic violence and discrimination (family and State levels), modern forms of slavery, successful women’s empowerment strategies against violence, especially those developed and used by women survivors… There is, arguably, a reason to believe that extensive contextual researches and common non-governmental discourses positively contribute to policy reforms and mentality change.

In that sense, here are few points to open the door to a constructive debate:

1-      Rape is rape, regardless of the relationship between the rapist and the victim – Please note that I refer to wives and husbands, however it can be understood to refer to all rapes perpetrated by an intimate. Also I am looking at rape on women, since this is by far the most common situation.

2-      Marital rape occurs when your spouse forces you to take part in sexual acts without your consent. Broadly defined, it includes any unwanted intercourse or penetration (vaginal, anal, oral) obtained by force, threat of force, or when the wife is unable to consent.

3-      Marital rape is generally sub-divided into three categories:  violent rapes (involving physical violence and injuries, such as injuries to the genital area or breasts) – violent rapes are easily proven -; ‘Force-only’ rapes (including enough force used on the part of the abuser to control his wife, but coercion plays a large part – the victim may be confused and numbed by constant emotional abuse); ‘sadistic ‘ rapes (the victim is either forced to comply with or undergo deeds designed to further humiliate her – urinating on the victim, acting out a fantasy of torturer… There is a difficulty however to define clear-cut lines between the different types of rape, since rape can involve any of the above or a combination of them.

4-      Researches show that marital rape can be equally, if not more, emotionally and physically traumatizing than rape by a stranger. Quite apart from physical and sexual violation, it is a betrayal of trust.  Also, while stranger rape is a sexual act of violence apart from the victims’ normal relationships, marital rape has to be understood in the context of an abusive relationship – emotional and possibly physical abuse.

5-      It is a myth that marital rape is less serious than other forms of sexual violence. There are many physical and emotional consequences that may accompany marital rape: Physical effects include injuries to the vaginal and anal areas, lacerations, soreness, bruising, torn muscles, fatigue, and vomiting. Women who are battered and raped frequently suffer from broken bones, black eyes, bloody noses and knife wounds. Gynecological effects include vaginal stretching, pelvic inflammation, unwanted pregnancies, miscarriages, stillbirths, bladder infections, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and infertility. Short-term psychological effects include PTSD, anxiety, shock, intense fear, depression and suicidal ideation. Long-term psychological effects include disordered sleeping, disordered eating, depression, intimacy problems, negative self-images, and sexual dysfunction. (http://vawnet.org/assoc_files_vawnet/ar_maritalraperevised.pdf)

6-      Many women who are victims of marital rape have great difficulty in defining it as such. The traditional idea that it is impossible for a man to rape his wife and that somehow, in taking our marriage vows we have abdicated any say over our own body and sexuality, basically denied ourselves the right to say ‘no’, is still prevalent amongst wives as much as amongst their husbands. Many women prefer to see it as a communication problem, or think that men are not fully responsible ‘due to their nature and their biological needs’, or have religious issues which question their right to refuse intercourse.

7-      Sexism is at the heart of marital rape, just as it is at the heart of most forms of sexual violence. The widespread idea that a husband has a right to sex, and has a right to use his wife’s body for this purpose, makes it difficult for many in mainstream Lebanese culture to recognize sexual coercion in marriage. How can a husband be guilty of taking something that belongs to him? Often the marriage vows are seen as giving contractual consent to sex; hence the crude joke “if you can’t rape your wife, who can you rape?” (http://www.wcsap.org/sites/www.wcsap.org/files/uploads/documents/MaritalRapeMinnesota.pdf)

8-      Sacred scriptures passages have been used to tell women that it is their duty to satisfy their husbands sexually – if a woman fails to do so, then she gets what she deserves if her husband “loses control” and rapes her. Women are also often told that if they “turn the other cheek” and love their husbands completely, they will be able to transform their husbands’ behavior. Many Christians enter into marriage with certain expectations, including regular sexual activity, while focusing on the following Biblical passages: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other.” (1 Cor. 7:3-5). These quotes are often used by men to “convince” their wives of their sexual responsibilities: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Col. 3:8). “Wives, ‘be subject to your own husbands,’ as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” (Eph. 5:22-24). However, the Bible describes the beauty and complexity of the marital companionship that creates the context of lovemaking: “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them.” (Col. 3:19). “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself…” (Eph. 5:25-33a). “You husbands…live with your wives in an understanding way…and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit;” (1 Pet. 3:7-8).

In Islam, the Quran clearly establishes that the relationship between husband and wife should be based on love and affection (2:187, 30:21 and others). Rape is incompatible with this ideal. It is a crime of Zina, which refers to extramarital or premarital sex. Some jurists have argued that there is a standing “consent” given at the time of marriage, so they do not consider marital rape to be a punishable crime (or that within marriage there is no extramarital or premarital intercourse, thus, by definition, there can be no marital rape). There can be illegal intercourse within marriage such as intercourse during menses, during obligatory fast or intercourse which will harm the woman, due to illness, infection and so on. Lebanon’s highest Sunni authority had previously slammed the idea of criminalizing marital rape as “a Western heresy”. The Shiite Hezbollah movement, meanwhile, said the bill “interfered in the affairs of husband and wife”. Other scholars have argued that rape is a non-consensual and violent act, which can happen within a marriage as well. Ultimately, a husband has a duty in Islam to treat his spouse with dignity and respect.

9-      Marital rape is considered a criminal offense in many countries including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belize, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, England, the Fiji Islands, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, The Philippines, Poland, Rwanda, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Trinidad/Tobago, Turkey, the United States, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe. In Lebanon, the draft law against domestic violence (2010) recognizes the existence of marital rape, but marital rape is not defined as a crime – only assault and battery are considered a crime.

10-  According to Articles 1 and 2 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 48/104 of 20 December 1993, violence against women include: (a) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation. (b) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution. (c) Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs. Sadly, this Declaration is not fully recognized by all UN member States, including Lebanon.

11-  It is estimated by NGOs working with abused women in Lebanon that almost 80 percent of female victims of domestic violence are also victims of spousal rape (http://www.unfpa.org.lb/Documents/4-Review-of-GBV-Research-in-Lebanon.aspx – Review of Gender based Violence in Lebanon). But cultural norms and the social stigma often attached to rape can and do discourage the reporting of marital rape. Most victims do not seek assistance, especially not formal help, and significant barriers exist to seeking help including a scarcity of safe, accessible and effective places of protection and intervention.

12-  The personal status laws encompass different degrees of domestic violence against women. Such laws still confirm the accessory role of women and allow various forms of moral and physical violence against them. As long as there is no common civil personal status law applied to all Lebanese, with only religious communities regulating matters such as marriage, parenthood and inheritance, marital rape will probably not be criminalized.

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Image source: sportinc.wordpress.com 

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19 Comments

  1. Thank you Dr,! I thought Marital Rape was indeed a secondary issue to tackle, or impossible to think of or struggle for. But when researches are done and debates occur, ignorance will no longer be predominant, and feminist movements and individuals will be able to lobby.

  2. Bonjour docteure Chrabieh. Je viens de lire votre article que je trouve excellent. Vous invitez au débat. J’espère qu’il y aura des personnes bien pensantes qui voudraient débattre. Car dans ce pays, les monologues et la loi du plus fort ont remplacé le débat constructif.
    Toute forme de discrimination et de violence envers les femmes devrait être dénoncée.

  3. As long as religious leaders are in power, and have certain conservative visions of what women should do or not within or outside a marriage, gender equality won’t be possible to reach, including in the private sphere.

  4. I don’t think i have hope concerning the future of Lebanon. With the war in Syria and its direct impact on all levels on the Lebanese society, our current struggles are merely a drop in an ocean.

  5. Everyone has the right to say ‘no’ to sex on any occasion and under any circumstances, regardless of whether they’ve given consent to sex with that person in the past. Sex without consent is rape, whether it takes place within a marriage or any other kind of relationship.

  6. There are many reasons why some women stay in intimate relationships that are violent or abusive. These include: societal pressures (especially in Lebanon and the Arab world), to prevent disruption to her children, a lack of alternatives e.g. financial constraints, fear that leaving might lead to further violence, shame about speaking out about what has happened, difficulty recognising or accepting what is happening, blaming themselves for what is happening, hope that their partner’s behaviour will change.
    Staying in a relationship that involves or has involved sexual violence does not mean a woman is ‘weak’ or any less deserving of specialist support and justice than a woman raped in any other kind of circumstance.
    Thank you Dr. for raising the issue.

  7. This is the East, not the Western world. We have different customs and laws. God said that women should obey their husbands. I don’t believe in this gender equality thing. Women should do whatever they are told to coz this is God’s will.

  8. In many Islamic countries rape within marriage isn’t recognised as the woman should be at the beck and call of her husband even in sexual matters. But in countries like Morocco, there are associations formed to help women in difficulties with their husbands, including the sexual abuse they can be exposed to.
    In view of the traditional restrictions on sexual freedom in Muslim countries and the desire for a romantic relation, many women fall victims to rape resulting in deflowering which is considered as a loss of dignity for the woman and a dishonour to her family.
    To deal with the problem of rapes and to have real statistics about it in the Muslim world, taboos on this should be lifted and open debates should be organised to sensitise women about the legal procedures they should follow as well as sensitizing societies and families to provide the victim with support instead of looking down on her as a shame to her surrounding.

  9. Thank you Dr Chrabieh for all this information. I think the problem is clear here, but I also think that it goes deeper than this. The problem occurs less in societies where husbands and wives can have extra-marital relationships with no objection on either side. People tend to get tired of each other after a while, and one will eventually not want to make love to the other, the only solution is then either divorce – very difficult to get here for many legal-religious-social reasons – or having relationships outside – again very difficult here. Both solutions would get rid of the one-for-life-including-sex equation, and open up relationships to less violence. We all know that there are also societies where sexuality is very much an open affair, and this precludes violence. I just wanted to say something a bit more off the beaten track, and it’s really worth a thought. The seventies tried to go that way, as we all know, but they were thwarted by traditionalists, with which most countries around us are populated. There is so much to be done…. le chantier est ouvert pour des siècles à venir…

    1. I agree…
      The Arab Spring wasn’t a revolution. If by revolution, you mean a dramatic break with the past that’s not what we saw. Politics takes a very long time to change, and thus sexual attitudes take even longer because they are so complex, and reforming religious traditions of marriage and gender roles.

  10. Rape?
    What about the rape of men?
    That rape that Lebanese girls special in?
    The rape of men with wealth and power.

    1. This is called ‘a lie’ when someone goes out with someone else having in mind money and power. But this is not rape. Please check the definition of words.

  11. Thank you Dr C for this in depth study which is very interesting. I am a board member at the YWCA Beirut, and our purpose and focus is women empowermen. We had started a center for battered and abused women, but now changed it to teaching the women about her rights, and how to say NO! We also have a shelter for women and their children to protect them. We are helping women come out and telling them that they are not alone, and that we will support them. We also teach them a profession so they can support themselves.
    This is the subject of the hour, and is most needed NOW! We have to all hand in hand help and support our “abused sisters”. Saturday the 8th of March was just the beginning! We all have to push more to change and ameliorate the state of the Lebanese women!
    From a previously battered woman, how set free and made it to the sky…..now I want to help everyone I can. From all my heart….to all of you…

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