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We hear a lot about sexual assault and rape in the climate right now within society. We know this is damaging and harmful. But do we know and hear about wife rape? What do we know about sexual assault within marriage? What kind of impact does marital rape have on survivors?
Marital rape is real and it happens. Many women do not know it has happened or they may feel confused or even ashamed about being sexually abused and assaulted in this way within their marriage by their husband. Consent is essential and the need for consent does not dissolve with marriage.
Read Wendy’s research article below on this topic of sexual abuse within marriage. We are grateful she was brave enough to share her story with us as well as her research paper on this subject.
Sexual Abuse In Marriage
When Melissa*, 27, decided to watch the BYU devotional on February 1 she was curious about what was going to be said because she’d previously been in an abusive relationship. What she didn’t expect to discover was that she was currently in an abusive relationship.
“As I was listening to [the speaker], I came to the realization that some of the things my husband had done were sexually abusive,” said Melissa.
Sexual Abuse Isn’t Just What You Think It Is
The National Domestic Violence Hotline sums up sexual abuse by coercion with these questions, “Have you ever felt pressured by your partner to have sex? Have you ever felt guilted into it, or felt like you weren’t able to say no?”
“He would ask me to have sex and, when I would say no, he would make me feel really bad about it until I just said, ‘Okay, fine, let’s just do it.’ Sometimes, we would be having sex and he would want to do something I didn’t want to do and then he’d make me feel like I had to do it. Then I would end up just bawling afterward,” said Melissa.
Melissa sincerely thought this relationship was different. In a way, it was, but it was also the same. This time, the abuse came from her husband of almost six years.
Sexual abuse in marriage is real, and it’s time to stop letting society tell us it isn’t.
Sexual Abuse Victims Need Validation
According to Sam Tielemans, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Las Vegas, Nevada, “Most women, if not all, realize that a line is being crossed. Whether they label it as abuse or a violation, they still experience the painful feelings that are associated with a violation or a breach in that.”
When Melissa realized she had been sexually abused by her husband, she immediately felt validated. She thought, “Oh, okay, so all of these feelings I’ve been feeling in regard to certain things happening. I’m not crazy.”
Tielemans, who has been a practicing therapist for four years, defines sexual abuse as “a violation of something sexual in nature that crosses a boundary of which somebody is comfortable or accepting.” According to Tielemans the result is psychological harm. If the abuse continues it causes even more damage to the victim. He says the same is true of sexual abuse in marriage.
Betrayal Trauma Is Real For Victims Of Sexual Abuse
The damage that happens to the wife is called betrayal trauma. According to Dr. Jill Manning, “Betrayal trauma occurs when someone we depend for survival, or are significantly attached to, violates our trust in a critical way.”
The website also differentiates between betrayal trauma and fear-based traumas. The two main differences are that the perpetrator has a close relationship with the victim and there is a high risk of it reoccurring.
Tielemans believes that “sexual abuse is one of the most damaging forms of abuse.” Sexual abuse results in the victim changing how they see themselves. Tielemans said, “They start to see themselves as worthless or just an object or not important. Their needs don’t matter.” The result of this change is that they often suffer from anxiety or depression or develop some ineffective or harmful way of coping.
Kathy Kinghorn, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) in Lehi, Utah, says that the wife doesn’t usually realize or understand that she’s being sexually abused. Sometimes, she realizes it later just like Melissa did. One of Kinghorn’s clients was reading something when she realized that she had been raped. The client’s realization was later confirmed by the perpetrator, her husband.
Women who suffer from betrayal trauma become “over” or “under” in their reaction to the trauma, according to Kinghorn. When they go “under” they will become quiet, compliant, or submissive. When they go “over” they will “overreact” to things. “I guess, succinctly,” said Kinghorn, “I would put a T-O-O in front of their emotions. They’re too sad if their child got hurt by a friend, they’re too angry at whatever. That’s just trauma coming out.”
*Name has been changed