Ohio legislature votes to end state’s marital rape loophole

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

The Ohio Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to pass a bill making Ohio the 39th state in the country to close a legal loophole that has long allowed marital rape to go unpunished in certain instances.

While rape by force in marriage has been illegal countrywide for decades, “these protections do not extend to spouses who are mentally or physically impaired, unconscious, asleep, etc. This includes situations where the offender purposefully administers a drug, intoxicant, or controlled substance for the purpose of preventing resistance,” said Terra Fox Williams, president and CEO of YWCA Dayton.

Williams was one of many witnesses to testify in favor of House Bill 161 as it made its way through the Ohio legislature.

In Ohio, such actions are only illegal if the victim and perpetrator are unmarried or don’t live together.

The Senate’s public discussions of the bill Wednesday largely centered on how perplexingly long it’s taken to get this issue addressed in Ohio law.

Sen. Stephanie Kunze, R-Dublin, noted that an individual’s husband or wife ought to be the person they trust the most. “(It is) egregious to think that in our state, in 2024, it is lawful to rape your spouse.”

Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, noted that she first became aware of the loophole back in the early 1990s. She credited advocates who have maintained their efforts through a slew of failed attempts to get this resolved.

Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, said he thought a 2016 House bill to fix the issue was a “no brainer” and “easy to get done.”

“This is an outdated law, it’s something that shouldn’t be on our books, and once the governor signs this, I’m glad it’ll be coming out,” said Manning, who ushered the bill through the Senate committee.

In the House, the bill passed 74-1, opposed only by area Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia, who declined to comment to this news organization about his vote but was quoted by a reporter from the USA Today Network Ohio as saying: “I personally don’t believe that a man, if he’s married and has physical relations with his wife, that can be considered rape.”

Several survivors of marital rape testified in favor of H.B. 161, including Lisa Gifford, who told a panel of state senators that she is hesitant to encourage her adult daughters to get married due to the current unequal protection of the law.

“In my previous marriage, I was raped several times by my husband and was told that there was nothing that could be done under the current law. He knew this law and continued to rape me and told me that it was legal,” Gifford said. “...I would never want them to suffer in silence like I did because the law is not there to protect them.”

Another survivor, who testified only under her first name as McKayla, testified that she lost count of how many times she had woken up in the middle of the night, exhausted from raising her two children, to her now ex-husband raping her.

“After reporting it to the police and a small investigation, they said they couldn’t do anything. When I went to get a protection order, they asked me if he used a gun or a knife. I said no; they said it wasn’t rape, according to the law,” McKayla said.

“If this was a stranger, he would be in jail, but because he was my husband he’s still walking free,” she said. “And who knows if he’s doing this to anyone else.”

Wendy Waters-Connell, CEO of Hamilton’s YWCA, told this news organization that “we absolutely and categorically support the closing of this loophole.” She called it a long overdue step.

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Avery Kreemer can be reached at 614-981-1422, on X, via email, or you can drop him a comment/tip with the survey below.

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