Washington state may finally drop marital rape exception

"There is no such thing as legitimate rape," said state Rep. Roger Goodman

Topics: Rape, Sexual assault, marital rape, Marriage, Crime, ,

Washington state may finally drop marital rape exception (Credit: AP/Schalk van Zuydam)

Washington lawmakers have introduced legislation to remove the spousal exemption from rape in the third degree, in which no physical force is used but consent is not given. Washington removed the marital exemption for first- and second-degree rape in 1983, but the current law forced prosecutors to pursue lesser, misdemeanor assault charges against spouses in cases that would have otherwise been prosecuted as third-degree rape.

As the Associated Press reports, Washington state remains one of a handful of states where marriage is an absolute defense against allegations of third-degree rape.

In defending the bill, state Rep. Roger Goodman D-Kirkland, borrowed a phrase from Todd Akin — and turned it on its head. “There is no such thing as legitimate rape,” he said. “We have to get rid of this marital rape exception and catch up with the rest of the country.”

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The first marital rape conviction did not occur in the United States until the late 1970s, reflecting long-held beliefs that only rape committed by a stranger constituted “legitimate rape” and that forced sex within marriage was a wife’s duty. But with growing awareness and an evolving legal code, successful prosecution of marital and acquaintance rape is becoming more common.

“Prosecutors have historically been more comfortable pursuing stranger rape, but that is changing by leaps and bounds,” Laura X, director of the National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape, told the New York Times in a piece on changing rape laws. “Very serious criminal charges are now routinely filed in cases involving acquaintance rape. The whole atmosphere has changed, as more people come to understand that ‘no’ means ‘no.’”

The bill is expected to pass in the Legislature, and Rep. Goodman is optimistic that Gov. Jay Inslee will sign it into law.

“I will do everything I can to make sure that we get rid of the marital rape exception in Washington,” Goodman said.

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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