An Ohio woman testified on Tuesday about her experience with spousal rape and law enforcement’s refusal to help her. According to Cleveland.com, the woman shared that while she was struggling with postpartum depression, her husband repeatedly raped her. However, when she filed multiple police reports, the police insisted that what she had experienced was not rape.
The woman spoke in support of a new bill, HB161, which aims to close a decades-old loophole that permits certain forms of spousal rape. The bill passed out of committee on Tuesday and seeks to amend an outdated section of the state code that currently makes it illegal to drug and sexually assault someone, except if the perpetrator is their spouse. This spousal exemption also applies to lesser sexual crimes such as sexual battery, sexual imposition, and gross sexual imposition.
State Rep. Jessica Miranda (D) highlighted that Ohio is one of only 11 states that still provide marital exceptions to rape. She emphasized that sexual violence often occurs within homes, where individuals should feel safe and secure.
HB161 would allow victims who are drugged and raped by their spouse, or subjected to other forms of abuse, to seek legal recognition of these acts as illegal. While federal law criminalized marital rape in 1986, a survey conducted in 2010 found that 19% of police officers from 11 police departments were unlikely to believe a married woman who claimed she was raped by her husband.
Ohio lawmakers have been attempting to close this loophole since 1985. In 2018, a similar bill passed out of committee but did not progress further. House Majority Leader Bill Seitz (R), who previously voted against the bill, voted in support of HB161 this week. He expressed concerns that the bill could inadvertently criminalize consensual sexual contact between spouses under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but stated that he would not oppose it at this time.
HB161 will now proceed to the House floor for a vote and, if passed, to the state Senate. The bill has received support from survivor advocates who argue that married individuals should not forfeit their right to bodily autonomy due to their marital status.