“Marital Rape” is a term where many people still now laugh at this. But alas! It is true and it is prevailing in our very own society where we cannot normally think that even if a woman is married but she can be raped by her husband. It’s our very common conception that a person feels the safest and secure at his/her home but unfortunately, that is not true for millions of women around the globe who suffer domestic violence at the hands of intimate partners every day of their lives, living in constant fear of being beaten, sexually or verbally abused. It is even more traumatic to live with the rapist where there remains very little scope or sometimes no scope to object because, in the general population, 80% believe that husbands use force often or somewhat often to have sex with their wives that are very normal in the marital relationship where the husband has every right to do whatever he wants or whenever he wants (Basile, 1999). This situation has been more acute because marital rape has been consistently invalidated by our culture at large. One of the driving forces behind this widespread cultural invalidation has been the commonly held belief that marital rape is not “real rape”. This marital rape is a widespread problem for a woman that has existed for centuries throughout the world (Russell, 1990). The scenario in Bangladesh is no different. The BBS reported in a 2011 study that 87 percent of women have suffered some form of domestic violence out of which 65 percent faced direct physical abuse which we call “marital rape”. The number came down to 80 percent in the 2015 survey with physical violence at 49 percent, but the report nonetheless states that on average almost two-thirds (72.6 percent) of the married women in Bangladesh have experienced rape by their husbands/intimate partners once in their lifetime. The laws in our country actually are endorsing marital rape. For example, marital rape, and underage marriage “under special circumstances” are both legal in this country. As it currently stands, girl children can be forced into sexual relationships without their consent as long as the perpetrator is legally married to them, even though it amounts to marital rape. Under Section 19 of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which states, “… if a marriage is solemnized in such a manner and under such special circumstances as may be prescribed by rules in the best interests of the minor, at the directions of the court and with the consent of the parents or the guardian of the minor, as the case may be, it shall not be deemed to be an offense under this act”. Critics of the law have pointed out time and again that “special circumstances” are not defined. The law also does not mention when and how a court can make such exceptions.
And as per Section 375 of the Penal Code, “Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 13 years of age, is not rape.” It has also been largely overlooked in the rape and domestic violence literature which has resulted in ignoring the issue of “marital rape” in the mainstream advocacy. The reasons behind marital rape are not only the flaws in our legislation rather the legislation or laws are also influenced by our societal norms, values, and perspective. It is a very common scenario in our country that generally girls are less educated than boys. This means they get fewer opportunities for education which makes them less aware of their own self. They don’t get the chance to know properly about their reproductive organ, how these organs function, and also how to control their own sexuality. They even don’t get to know about the usage of contraception, unwanted pregnancy, and also sexually transmitted diseases. All these are the hidden causes of marital rape.
Patriarchy is another core reason behind this heinous violence. The patriarchal practices have convoluted in our days so harmoniously that we hardly recognize these practices as oppressive. Generally, we not only accept them rather we inherit them from generation to generation. And when we finally can recognize this violence along with oppressive patriarchal practices we put ourselves in a situation where neither we can accept it nor deny which is the worst part. And this also comes from the lack of confidence that women can barely achieve through their socialization process. It has been observed that rape is related to the assertion of power and it is a conscious process used by men to intimidate women to keep them in a constant state of fear. In a marital relation, a woman is continuously forced to live invariably under the state of threat and fear because there is no escape from it.
The security provided within marriage is no longer available. This insecurity makes her helpless and powerless. Marital Rape implies continuous humiliation, indignity, and shame and the woman has to cope with intense emotional trauma which is embodied by the culture of shame and silence maintained around the situation of marital rape where a woman is conditioned not to talk about it. It is a form of violence that is conditionalized as normal, saying no to which is unthinkable.
If marital rape victims are to be better helped in the future, then efforts to understand, research, educate, validate, and treat the victims of this heinous crime must be seriously undertaken by medical, mental health, social service, legal, religious professionals, and our culture at large. Only then will this often silent and underserved population begin receiving the compassion and help it so greatly deserves.
- Bennice, J. and Resick, P., 2003. Marital Rape. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 4(3), pp.228-246.
- Murshid, N. and Zippay, A., 2016. Microfinance Participation and Marital Violence in Bangladesh: A Qualitative Inquiry. Violence Against Women, 23(14), pp.1752-1770.
About the writer:
MST Prottasha is currently pursuing her post-graduation from the Department of Women and Gender Studies, University of Dhaka. She completed her graduation from the same department. She has completed a one-year fellowship program from HerStory Foundation and has also volunteered for some organizations. She has nurtured a passion for writing for a long time.