Is Virginia’s Proposed Marital Rape Statute a Good Idea?

A lot of folks are up in arms over Virginia’s proposal to criminalize marital rape, but the proposal seems like simple common sense.

Virginia’s legislature is considering altering its laws to make it easier for married women to file rape charges against their husband. Some critics of feminism are up in arms over this proposed change, but, in fact, passing the law would be the right thing to do.

The issue here is pretty straightforward. Under current Virginia law, a woman who wants to accuse her husband of rape must first meet two criteria — she must no longer be living with her husband or she must provide some evidence of a serious bodily injury. If she is still living with her husband or did not sustain a serious bodily injury, she cannot accuse her husband of rape.

The proposed law would eliminate those two requirements, giving married women the same rights under the law that single women have.

This seems like a pretty obvious change that probably should have been done a long time ago, but critics both in the Virginia House and on the Internet have criticized the bill on a number of grounds. Stuart Miller wrote a critique of the law, Martial Rape — What a “Can of Worms”! that presents two arguments against the marital rape statute. Lets look at those.

First Miller opens his critique with the bizarre view that a marital rape statute might discourage men from getting married. Since data show that married women suffer less violence from their partners than do non-married women, the law might actually increase violence against women by lowering marriage rates. It is also true that children living in married households are less likely to be abused by their parents than are children living in unmarried households. Does it follow, then, that we should decriminalize child abuse among married couples? Besides, I thought it was the radical feminists who were obsessed with groups rather than with protecting the rights of individual. Presumably women who are raped by their husbands would prefer to be treated like individuals rather than figuring in some grand collective calculus by Miller and others.

The second argument Miller offers is also an argument that was made in opposition to the law on the floor of the Virginia House — some unscrupulous women might use this law to file false rape charges against their husbands to gain leverage during divorce proceedings.

Certainly, if this law passes, some women will in fact do this. So what? The fact that some women might twist and abuse the law is hardly much of a justification for jettisoning the rights of women who do not abuse the system in that way. The solution to that problem is not saying that married women must jump through all sorts of extra hoops to charge their husbands with rape, but rather demand that more be done about the problem of false allegations.

Virginia’s current law is absurdly antiquated. That a woman in Virginia cannot file a rape charge against her husband if she is currently living with him and did not sustain a serious bodily injury boggles the mind. The Virginia legislature should pass this change to its statute on marital rape, and it should also pass legislation toughening treatment of men or women who file false allegations.


Marital Rape — What a “Can of Worms”!. Stuart A. Miller, Strike-The-Root.Com, March 3, 2002.

Domestic violence a priority. Pamela Stallsmith, Virginia Times-Dispatch, February 24, 2002.

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