Ohio lawmakers eliminate ‘archaic’ marital rape loophole after years-long fight

Columbus Dispatch [Columbus OH]

April 24, 2024

By Haley BeMiller

Ohio lawmakers voted Wednesday to criminalize marital rape in all situations, ending a years-long fight over a law that critics cast as archaic and harmful to survivors.

The Ohio Senate unanimously passed legislation which eliminates a measure that protects spouses from prosecution against rape, unless the perpetrator used force or the couple lives in separate homes. It also removes the spousal exception for sexual battery and other sex crimes and allows spouses to testify against their partner in these cases.HomeBuddy21 Gutter Guards Put to the Test: See What Roofers FoundAd

The bill now heads to Gov. Mike DeWine, who is expected to sign it, according to his spokesman.

“Every little girl dreams about her wedding day and being fully loved and honored by someone so intensely,” one woman told a Senate committee as she recounted abuse by her ex-husband. “However, being physically and mentally forced to sexually gratify her spouse has never been a part of that dream, or even considered as part of the vows so solemnly taken on that special day.”

The USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau does not name victims of sexual assault without their consent.

Marital rape exemption took years to eliminate

One-third of rapes are committed by a victim’s current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Nearly 20% of women and 7.6% of men reported sexual violence by an intimate partner in the 2016-2017 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, the most recent report available.

But passage of the bill was never assured. Lawmakers debated the issue for years after the state partially criminalized marital rape in the 1980s, according to the Cleveland State Law Review. In 1985, proponents of the exemption argued that women would make false allegations or “use rape charges as a weapon in separation and divorce settlements,” the review stated.

The article credited 17th-century jurist Sir Matthew Hale with giving oxygen to the “unsupported, extrajudicial” idea that husbands can’t rape their wives.

“These distinctions date from the days when women were expected to obey their husbands and (were) based on the idea that men have a property right of sexual access to the bodies of their wives,” said Alexandria Ruden, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

Past efforts to change the law stalled in the statehouse, even with bipartisan support. This time around, former Democratic Rep. Jessica Miranda partnered with Rep. Brett Hillyer, R-Uhrichsville, to pass it through the House. The only lawmaker to oppose it was Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia, who said it could “be used as a wedge between husband and wife.”

Ohio is one of 11 states with a similar law on the books.

“Our state is one small step closer to being a state that protects victims and survivors more so than it protects rapists and pedophiles,” said Miranda, who now serves as Hamilton County auditor. “This is just a tiny ounce of respect, and the state, of course, could be doing tons and tons more. We still have a lot more work to do.”

Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio lawmakers eliminate ‘archaic’ marital rape loophole after years-long fight