Spouse/Partner rape

What is partner rape?

Partner rape happens when your spouse or de facto partner (someone who you live with in a committed, intimate relationship) has sex with you without your consent. This includes if you feel pressured, threatened or coerced into participating in any type of sex when you don’t want to, or if you are physically forced into, or during, sex. Partner rape can happen to men and women of any age, ethnicity or sexual identity. It is generally part of an ongoing abusive relationship, but may also happen as an isolated incident within a relationship that is otherwise respectful and equal. It can happen between a man and a woman or partners of the same sex.

How can you be raped by your partner?

Sometimes people have difficulty understanding how unwanted sex with someone you have previously been or are currently sexually intimate with could be considered ‘rape’. New Zealand passed legislation in 1986 that protects any person in a marital or de facto relationship from having sex when they do not want to. These laws mean that any type of non-consensual sex, regardless of your relationship with the offender, can be reported to the Police as rape. Some people who have been pressured or forced into sex with a current or ex-partner feel uncomfortable labelling their experience as ’rape’ and their partner as a ’rapist’. Regardless of what you choose to call the experience, and whether or not you report it to the Police, support is always available.

Effects of Partner rape

Coming to terms with being sexually assaulted by your partner can be hard. It can be difficult to imagine how someone who you love and trust, and who is supposed to love and care for you, can hurt you in this way. The sense of betrayal and disbelief may be overwhelming. Survivors of partner rape often feel that they are to blame for the assault happening. They may feel guilty, ashamed, or responsible for keeping the assault a secret. This can lead to depression, anger, confusion and loss of confidence and self-esteem.It isn’t uncommon for a survivor to disassociate emotionally and feel numb or detached from their abusive partner. They may also develop hostility towards the offender’s gender, ethnicity, or feel they’ll never be able to trust anyone or be in an intimate relationship again.

Statistics

17% of women in a recent New Zealand study reported that they had been sexually assaulted by a current or ex-partner (Fanslow & Robinson, 2004) and 13% of the survivors who contacted Rape Crisis Auckland in 2003 were raped by their partner. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, 6.5% of sexual assaults reported  in 2001 where the survivor knew the offender before the assault occurred, was perpetrated by a current or ex-partner of the same sex. 39.9% of abusive current or ex-partners were of the opposite sex to the survivor.

Myths about Partner rape

  • “It’s not rape if it’s a partner/spouse who forces you to have sex.”

Any sex without consent is rape. Whether married or in a relationship with a person, no one has ownership of your body and your decisions about it but you.

  • “Spouses/partners can’t be ‘real’ rapists.”

Most people who rape are in a married, de facto or otherwise stable relationship.

  • “It’s not rape if the survivor is confused about their experience, or doesn’t call it rape.”

There are many reasons why someone who is raped by their partner might not want to label it as such. There may be pain and confusion around identifying that someone they genuinely love has hurt them in such a way. No matter what the survivor calls it, sex without consent is never ok.

  • “It’s not rape if the survivor remains with their partner – surely if it was that bad, they’d leave.”

There are many reasons why someone may choose to not leave an abusive partner, and none of them mean that the rape wasn’t serious or traumatic.

  • “Rape by a partner isn’t ‘real’ rape unless it’s extremely violent.”

In general, rape that happens in any context doesn’t involve a great deal of physical violence. When rape happens within an intimate relationship, the offender often knows other ways (like threats or coercion) to scare and subdue their partner.

What if it’s happening to me?

If you’re in a situation where you’re being sexually assaulted by a current or ex-partner, it can sometimes feel like you have no way out. Regardless of whether you want to stay with your partner or not, there are some things you can do to access support for yourself and try and bring a stop to the abuse.

  • Keep in contact with friends and family members. Your offending partner may try and isolate you from the people who care about you in an attempt to remain in control of you and the relationship. Keeping in contact with your support systems may provide a link to freedom from the abuse.
  • Confide in others. Many survivors feel they should keep the rape a secret as they feel embarrassed or ashamed, or don’t want to betray their partner. Silence allows the offender to continue their behaviour.
  • You can gain emotional support from talking to others about what’s happening. Investigate your options. There are various agencies in your area that offer support to people who are affected by partner rape.

 

If you have been affected by spouse/partner rape, there are several options available to you. Please go to our Get Help page for more information. Or contact your nearest sexual assault service for support.