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.

Women’s Law & Public Policy Fellowship Program at Georgetown Law

Malorie Palmer joins AEquitas, where she will be working to improve access to justice in gender-based violence and human trafficking cases. Malorie is driven by a fierce commitment to preventing and prosecuting sex crimes. Graduating with a joint J.D/M.S.W. (Masters in Social Work) from Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law in 2020, Malorie has already approached the issue from multiple legal vantage points. Whether seeking civil protection orders at Indiana Legal Services, or convictions on behalf of survivors of gender-based violence at Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s Council, Malorie draws on her M.S.W. to deliver more than legal outcomes. She connects her clients to the care and services they need in order to access meaningful relief. Her fellowship year will be spent refining her skills as an advocate for survivors, and learning from others in the field in order to effectively reduce gender-based violence. 

Weinstein trial spotlights the use of ‘prior bad acts’ witnesses

“Experts who testify about victim behavior are so important because they are leveling the playing field,” said Jennifer Long, executive director of AEquitas, a non-profit legal organization that trains district attorneys in the effective prosecution of sex crimes cases. “They are basically trying to undo years of both public and prevalent myths about victims of sexual assault and how they’re supposed to behave.”

In Nome, Alaska, review of rape ‘cold cases’ hits a wall

“You really have to be interested in searching for the truth, take the time to actually speak to people, and not just minimize the case as not important, or just some drunk sex,” said Jennifer Long, co-founder of AEquitas, a national organization that trains professionals on sexual violence investigation and litigation.

“What we know about victims is that there’s an incredible level of self-blame for all of the activity — and being vulnerable is not a crime, although in these cases it certainly is used against the victim.”

Prosecution Declined

Jonathan Kurland, a former prosecutor and current attorney advisor with AEquitas, said the best way to get better at trying rape cases is, simply, to try difficult rape cases — and dispel the myth that these cases require better proof than other crimes.
Prosecutors do have an ethical obligation to only take cases they believe will stand up in court. But Kurland says that assessment should be based on what an unbiased jury should do under the law — not what a jury might do, or what a biased jury would do, or what the last jury did.
“Even if the jury doesn’t return with the expected results or what’s believed to be the correct result, just [use] that opportunity to start educating not only the broader jury pools but the judges and defense attorneys in the system as well,” he said.

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In many states, marriage is still a defense against rape

In many states, though spousal rape is illegal, spousal exemptions remain — including those based on the age of the victim (when sexual conduct might otherwise be statutory rape), their custodial or supervisory relationship (when sexual conduct might otherwise be illegal), or the victim’s capacity to consent, according to AEquitas.

Lehigh County DA Awarded for Work Against Human Trafficking

In an effort to combat human trafficking in Lehigh County, Martin and the Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center recently partnered with Lehigh University; AEquitas, a prosecutor’s resource; and The Why, a nonprofit whose mission is to eradicate modern slavery in the fashion industry and to economically empower survivors. The goal of the partnership is to develop an artificial intelligence application to identify potential human trafficking victims and perpetrators within police incident narratives.

The partnership is part of a larger initiative coordinated by Martin to attack human trafficking in Lehigh County.

Artificial Intelligence and the Fight Against Human Trafficking

“There are tremendous barriers placed in front of victims, who also have tremendous vulnerabilities,” says Jennifer Gentile Long ’93, chief executive officer of AEquitas, a resource for prosecutors working on cases of human trafficking and gender-based violence. “That makes their participation in these investigations very difficult and in some cases impossible—sometimes because of direct threats and sometimes just because the trauma is so great or they lack trust or familiarity with our justice system. We also often see victims identified as defendants and that shuts everything down.”

The Loophole

Jennifer Long, who runs AEquitas, said unwanted contact with ejaculate is a “humiliating” and “egregious” form of sexual assault.

“There is a past and in some ways present tendency to minimize contact or penetration that doesn’t meet the most stereotypical elements of assault: gunpoint, violence, penetration, ejaculation, injuries everywhere,” she said. “But that’s not necessary in order to be a crime of sexual violence.

“Just because a penis or vagina hasn’t physically touched someone but ejaculate has, it doesn’t lessen the crime or its impact on the victim,” she said.

Why Are American Doctors Performing Virginity Tests?

Lewis’s scheme is not uncommon. It’s “just another example of people trying these strategies to discredit victims,” says Jennifer Long, a lawyer and CEO of AEquitas, a nonprofit working to refine and strengthen prosecution practices to help survivors of gender-based violence. “If you have an exam and there’s no penetration noted, I can almost guarantee a defense will try and use it against a victim.”