Ohio Bill Would End Spousal Exemptions for Sexual Violence

click to enlarge Ohio Statehouse - Photo by Jake Zuckerman
Photo by Jake Zuckerman
Ohio Statehouse

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A bill under consideration in the Ohio Legislature would ensure relationship status doesn't limit a sexual assault victim's ability to speak out against their abuser.

Under current law, certain sex crimes exempt people who commit sexual violence against their spouses, even though the same actions outside a marriage would be considered a crime.

Rosa Beltre, executive director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, said no one should assume spousal rape is within the bounds of socially acceptable behavior.

"'Your body is mine, and I own you as a property,' is the message that we're actually sending survivors," Beltre contended. "And I cannot believe that it's this century and that we're still dealing with that. Marital rape is real, and it does exist."

It's estimated up to one in 10 sexual assaults occur within marriage, a statistic that rises to nearly seven in 10 if domestic violence is already present in the relationship.

House Bill 121 is currently in the House Criminal Justice Committee. Opposing testimony has not yet been heard.

Beltre noted the typical counterargument against removing spousal exemptions is that it would allow a person to make false accusations against their spouse. She pointed out that less than 3% of sexual abuse allegations are false.

"Eliminating that victim-blaming mentality is so crucial," Beltre asserted. "This is not a mechanism for retaliation, and this is not about unwanted sexual contact from their partner."

Beltre added Ohio is one of only 12 states that does not distinguish between married and unmarried victims of sexual violence.

"It sends survivors a message that what is happening to them is not a crime and that it's legal," Beltre stressed. "And then, survivors have trouble identifying that they have experienced sexual violence. It's time for Ohioans to start believing survivors."
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