Sexual Violence Travesty: Legal Loopholes for Marital Rape and Child Marriage in the United States
Marital sexual violence is a topic that has only recently begun to be addressed in state law; since then, in the last four decades, significant progress has been made in providing legal protections for survivors of marital sexual violence. Yet even with such protections, child marriage remains legal in most states, and although marital rape is now illegal across the United States, there are still loopholes or exemptions for sex crimes committed within marriages. At the heart of this issue is the historical foundation of married women considered “property” of their husbands by the law. Reducing married women to mere legal property has translated to sexual control of women that was deemed “legitimate” under the right to property within English Common Law and post-independence state laws.
Nevertheless, the state has an inherent responsibility to ban child marriage and remove state marital rape loopholes or exemptions. This article will provide a state-by-state look at current marital rape and child marriage laws, how case law has evolved over time (and continues to evolve in these areas), and how child marriage legalization acts as a type of loophole for marital rape by often creating marriages wherein a minor is being sexually abused/assaulted by their partner. Specific policy recommendations based on legislative and judicial trends will also be discussed.