Continental woman advocates for end of spousal rape loophole

May 3—CONTINENTAL — Sarah Tucker reported her husband to law enforcement and prosecutors. She got the same response each time.

"'I believe you, but there's nothing I can do,'" Tucker recalls authorities telling her. "At the time, I didn't realize there was this loophole in Ohio — that marital exception, that archaic loophole."

What Tucker didn't know is that Ohio law shields spouses from prosecution for rape and other sex crimes, unless the spouse uses force or is separated from their partner.

Tucker is one of dozens of women and victim advocates who testified in support of House Bill 161 to eliminate the so-called spousal rape loophole.

The bill, which now awaits Gov. Mike DeWine's signature, allows partners to testify against their spouse and removes spousal exemptions from rape and other sex crimes such as sexual battery, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and importuning.

"Rape is rape," Tucker said. "Victims should be given the same justice, married or unmarried, and that's not the case."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in 10 women in the U.S. are raped by an intimate partner in their lifetime, but many survivors do not report rape or sexual assault to authorities.

The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network estimates 310 of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police.

Only 50 of those reports lead to an arrest, while 28 cases result in felony convictions and 25 perpetrators are incarcerated, according to RAINN.

Tucker testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in April that her husband repeatedly raped and abused her throughout their nine-year marriage.

She started sleeping on her daughter's bedroom floor or the couch toward the end of the marriage, at times locking the door to keep her husband away, according to testimony.

Once, when her children weren't home, Tucker said her husband "forced his way into the bedroom" and demanded she have intercourse. When she declined, Tucker told the committee that her husband cornered her, masturbated and ejaculated in her face, according to testimony.

"When I would say 'no' or try to resist, I was continuously told 'it's not rape because you're my wife,' and if I would ever tell anyone what he did he would say, 'it's your word against mine,'" Tucker testified.

The spousal rape exception dates to the English Blackstone commentaries, which saw women as the "property of their husbands, subject to 'couverture' which gave women protection from others at the expense of autonomy and safety in her home," Stefan Turkheimer, RAINN's interim vice president of public policy, told the House Judiciary Committee last June.

State legislatures started to remove spousal privilege for forcible rape in the 1970s, Turkheimer said, but Ohio preserved the privilege for "everything but forcible rape."

"That means the most common types of partner rape, like drug-induced sexual assault, remain completely legal," he said.

HB 161 won near-unanimous support in the House and Senate — the sole "nay" vote came from Xenia Republican Rep. Bill Dean. The bill's fate now rests with DeWine.

"I felt like I was let down by elected officials who were supposed to protect, to serve and protect people like me," Tucker said. But she's optimistic HB 161 may give future survivors a shot at justice.

"It's going to give Ohioans equal rights, married or unmarried."

Need help?

Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (7233)

Crime Victim Services 27/4 Crisis Line: 877-867-7273