Rape in Asia (and in marriages everywhere)

Perhaps you’ve heard about the new report on the prevalence of rape in Asia (nice summary from CNN).  It’s a problem (and surely a problem all through the world).  Let’s just be clear on that.  That said, I really don’t like ambiguous definitions of sexual interactions being used as “rape.”  When it comes to “partner rape” the study uses:

Had sexual intercourse with his partner when he knew she didn’t want it but believed she should agree because she was his wife/partner

I think reasonable people can definitely disagree on this, but I just don’t see that as “rape.”  I agree to stuff I don’t want to do all the time because my wife wants me to do them.  My wife agrees to stuff she doesn’t necessarily want to do all the time because she’s my wife.  It’s called being married.  Sure, on some level sexual intercourse is different from washing dishes, cleaning gutters, picking up a kid’s toys, etc., but if it’s rape just because a partner who might really rather not want to have sex agrees to in order to make their partner happy, I really don’t see that as “rape” or sexual violence in any meaningful way.  Now, it was clear from the full results that a lot of men simply feel entitled to women’s bodies.  And that’s a very real problem.  And the amount of rape under other– more appropriate in my book– definitions is a very real problem.  But I don’t think it really serves the cause of women’s rights to overstate inarguable cases of sexual violence by muddying the waters with problematic definitions of rape like this.  

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

6 Responses to Rape in Asia (and in marriages everywhere)

  1. Alex says:

    You said: “agrees to in order to make their partner happy.” That’s different from “when he knew she didn’t want it but believed she should.” In my eyes, the latter implies no agreement.

  2. Mika says:

    I don’t know…

    “Had sexual intercourse with his partner when HE knew she didn’t want it but BELIEVED SHE SHOULD AGREE because she was his wife/partner” – Study

    He is subject.

    “…but if it’s rape just because a PARTNER who might really rather not want to have sex AGREES TO in order to make their partner happy…” – You

    She is subject. (Isn’t she?)

  3. Let’s be clear. If your partner, even if you’re married, says I don’t want to have sex, and you physically force them to have sex anyway, you’re raping them. There is some ambiguity involved if they don’t voice this, but it’s clear as day if they do.

  4. Steve Greene says:

    I guess to me the problem is the ambiguity of “knew she didn’t want it.” My guess is that this happens all the time in marriages without it actually being the coercion we would consider rape. There’s surely levels of “didn’t want it” from “absolutely, no, get your hands off me, no, period” to “really?, tonight? do we have to? I’d rather not.” I think sometimes a “yes” to this question certainly indicates an instance of rape but I would still argue sometimes a “yes” to this question represents something far more in a gray area.

    • Mike from Canada says:

      Agreed. There is not enough information to make informed opinion on this instance.
      It’s possible that she consented but only because in the past when she said no he punished her in some form and she has no way to escape. If she has no method to escape the marriage and husbands have a habit of brutalizing wives who disobey, then it doesn’t matter what she says, she is more like chattel rather then a partner. In some cultures, this is what being a wife means. That was the case here in the western world not all that long ago.

      • Steve Greene says:

        A student in my class raised the good point that what if the woman entered the marriage under the false consent of being a child forced into it by family/society. In that case, whatever she says, it could be seen as rape. Undoubtedly, vast cultural differences make this a complicated topic.

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