Bill on rape statutes addresses marital rape loophole

By: - December 12, 2019 12:50 am
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With bipartisan support on the issue of removing the statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault in Ohio, legislators are hoping a bill recently introduced in the state Senate would also remove a loophole involving marital rights.

Senate Bill 162 seeks to remove the statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault, which currently stands at 25 years, but also would take out the language in the law that allows forms of marital rape.

“Right now, legally, an intimate (married) partner could, either through drugs or alcohol or something, incapacitate their partner, have sex with them without their consent, and they have not broken a law,” said state Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, a primary sponsor of the bill.

State Sen. Nickie J. Antonio, D-Lakewood.

While Antonio said the substantive parts of the bill regard the elimination of the statute of limitations, she saw it as “common sense” to combine the two issues.

“If you’re bringing in folks to talk about one part of the issue, and one element, you’re going to bring the same folks in to talk about the other element within the legislation,” Antonio said.

The issue got extra attention as Gov. Mike DeWine and state attorneys general came together to decry the statute of limitations. They spoke out against the statute particularly as news came out about former Ohio State University athletic doctor Richard Strauss and at least 177 former athletes whom he’d sexually abused, according to a university report.

But the marital rape loophole has been a target for advocates for years, especially since Ohio stands as one of only 11 states who still have language in the law preventing spouses from being charged with rape.

11 states still have a spousal loophole in their rape laws:

  •         Michigan
  •         Mississippi
  •         Nevada
  •         Ohio
  •         Oklahoma
  •         Rhode Island
  •         South Carolina
  •         Virginia
  •         Connecticut
  •         Idaho
  •         Iowa


The YWCA is the country’s largest single provider of domestic violence shelters and services, and the Dayton chapter has specifically taken on marital rape as part of their advocacy campaign.

“We know women who live in cycles of violence, even though there’s no overt threat of force,” said Sarah Wolf Knight, grants and advocacy manager for YWCA Dayton. “A lot of women don’t have the language to be able to call that rape.”

The issue has been brought up in several general assemblies, but has had to be reintroduced because of a lack of support in the hearing stage. However, Wolf Knight said there has been progress because of support for more scientific investigation into rape crimes and the drive to clear out a backlog of rape kits in Ohio.

“What it goes back to is believing survivors, and understanding why women don’t come forward,” Wolf Knight said.

Senate Bill 162 also acts as another attempt to change the language in the code to be more inclusive to those who are legally recognized in the state.

“It does make a difference if we’re talking about ‘husband and wife,’ which is not inclusive and does not include all the married people in Ohio now, but if we use the term ‘spouse,’ throughout the code, that does apply to any people who are legally married,” Antonio said.

The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where co-sponsors Antonio and Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, gave testimony on the importance of the bill. No other hearings have been scheduled.

The bill has support from all nine Ohio Democratic state senators, with two Republican state senators signed on as cosponsors: Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard, and Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.