In the Fight to Outlaw Marital Rape Exemptions, Ohio Republicans Go Silent


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[image-1]Despite marital rape being illegal in most cases across most of the U.S., the Ohio Revised Code allows for several gaps where a spouse may not be charged with rape in the event of what otherwise seems exactly like rape. In Ohio, there must be some “force or threat of force” in order to warrant prosecution. The codified exemptions remain a legal problem for those fighting against domestic and sexual abuse.

For example, a man may drug his wife and rape her — and there is no state law through which to press charges (unless they live apart).

Now, two state legislators are mounting a challenge. Reps. Greta Johnson (Akron) and Kristin Boggs (Columbus) introduced HB 97 last week, which would put an end to those exemptions. No Republican representative has signed on as a co-sponsor.

“We must modernize Ohio’s laws and eradicate unacceptable policy that allows someone to commit violence against their spouse,” Boggs said in a public statement. “Women and men experiencing sexual violence at the hands of their spouses should not be denied the right to seek justice just because they happen to be married to the offender.”

The marital exemptions in Ohio exist elsewhere too; in Maryland, for instance, the same "use of force" qualifier gets spouses out of trouble in the event of drugging or mental/physical impairment.

This is an extremely archaic framing of law, of course: English common law maintained for centuries that it was impossible for a husband to rape his wife. The concept, back then, was a legal non-issue. Still, such exemptions persist in large swaths of the U.S.

In 2015, the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law published a report on the injustices behind Ohio's marital rape exemption.

"Undoubtedly, the government could have prosecuted the husband with a crime other than a sexual offense, such as assault, felonious assault, or corrupting another with drugs," the report states, illustrating how rape exemptions could be alternatively prosecuted in Ohio. "However, these offenses do not vindicate the same social harms as the sexual offenses, most importantly a person's sexual autonomy - the right to choose whether to engage in sexual conduct or contact with another person."

It's a point that Johnson and Boggs may help vet in future hearings on their bill. But even that — the conversation — is a long shot; Ohio Republicans have a history of stonewalling this sort of legislation.

In 2015, Johnson introduced a similar bill, which languished on committee agendas before dying quietly. (Only Rep. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, signed on as a co-sponsor that time.) As the Akron Beacon Journal's Doug Livingston points out, that bill also sought a repeal of the statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault cases. Republican lawmakers pushed back, and, ultimately, Johnson dropped that provision from the new bill.

“I am appalled that there is not a larger discussion in our state about this issue," Johnson said. "I am deeply disappointed that none of my Republican colleagues signed on as co-sponsors to this bill – protecting victims of sexual assault and rape should have nothing to do with partisan affiliation.”

The CSU report sticks its landing: "Ohio's partially abolished marital exemption cannot be justified under any coherent theory of justice, appears to survive merely due to inertia, and certainly does not serve the best interests of Ohio residents."

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