COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Since at least 2015, Ohio lawmakers have waged an unsuccessful war against a loophole in state law that allows a married person to rape their spouse scot-free.
Rep. Jessica Miranda – who has outlasted at least four failed attempts to revise what she calls “an archaic piece of code” – hopes 2023 is different.
Last Tuesday, the Forest Park Democrat and Rep. Brett Hillyer (R-Uhrichsville) introduced bipartisan legislation, House Bill 161, to eliminate exceptions to Ohio law that shield people, in some circumstances, from being criminally prosecuted for raping or sexually abusing their spouse.
While current law bars a married person from using or threatening force to sexually assault their partner, a loophole in the fine print of Ohio’s criminal code exempts perpetrators from prosecution if drugs or intoxicants are used to impair – then rape or sexually assault – their spouse.
“Believe it or not, Ohio is one of only a few states that still has that in our code,” Miranda said.
About 33% of rapes in the U.S. are committed by a current or former partner, according to the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey from 2017.
That’s why the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence has pushed state legislators to pass previous iterations of HB 161, according to the nonprofit’s public policy director Emily Gemar.
The state’s marital rape exemptions, Gemar said, have only served to impede Ohioans from seeking justice in court – including victims and survivors served by the statewide nonprofit – while normalizing the “outdated beliefs and misconceptions” that it’s OK to rape a spouse.
“When people feel like they can’t report or there’s no point in reporting, they may never come forward,” she said. “If folks know, ‘I can’t report this because it’s not technically a crime,’ why should I go to mental health resources or seek out rape crisis services?”
Survivors of intimate partner violence are more likely to experience death, injuries and long-lasting trauma, Gemar said, but because of Ohio’s current loopholes surrounding spousal rape, married victims – whose assaults fall under the exempted categories – do not qualify for a Sexually Oriented Offense Protection Order.
“We’re hoping that this legislation, if it will pass, will help folks get access to the justice system that they should already have access to,” Gemar said.
Previous versions of HB 161, dating back as early as 2015, failed to receive a vote in the General Assembly. The current iteration awaits consideration by the House Criminal Justice Committee.