Men Who Rape Their Wives Can Still Get Away With It in Many States

“There’s still just misogynistic beliefs of what marriage entitles you to,” said Jane Anderson, an attorney adviser at AEquitas. “These laws tend to validate those beliefs on some level—that consent looks different if you’re married, or consent isn’t as necessary if you’re married, or it has to be highly violent for it to really count.”

Prosecutions for raping a spouse are a relatively recent legal invention. Under English common law, a wife literally belonged to her husband, according to Holly Fuhrman, senior associate attorney adviser at AEquitas; it wasn’t possible to sexually assault your property. It’s a concept typically attributed to a man named Sir Matthew Hale, a British 17th-century justice who surmised that a woman’s wedding vows meant she’d given her consent to sex. Forever.