Marital rape is often treated indulgently. Legislation of most countries does not consider this action as a crime. However, taking into account physical and psychological damage to the victim, the marital rape is a more ruthless crime than a usual one. The betrayal of the closest person is extremely painful and causes hard psychological damage to the object of the crime. The emphasis of the paper is on the rapist and the victim personality characteristics and recovery procedures. Restorative measures consist of emergency actions and long-term psychotherapy. Goals of posttraumatic intervention enlisted in the paper are aimed at preventing the irreversible psychic changes.


Marital rape is forcing the spouse to committing a sexual act. Since the mid-70s, courts in some countries started recognizing it as a criminal action. Marital rape is regarded as a form of domestic violence or sexual abuse. Previously ignored by the law, marital rape is now forbidden by international conventions and criminally persecuted. However, despite its illegality, marital rape is often regarded as the prerogative of the husband in many countries. The main aim of this paper is to reveal the unobvious aspects of the marital rape and to prove its high danger for the modern system of social relations.

Men often get indignant when they hear about the marital rape, considering it as the performance of the conjugal duty. One can meet an opinion that a wife shall not refuse her husband in the sphere of sex (Herring, 2014). This viewpoint is wrong. All sexual acts that have been committed without the consent of the woman must be qualified as a real rape (Palczewski, 1995). At the same time, men often treat forced sex in the family as a quite possible action. Even women themselves often do not regard it as a serious violation of their rights, for which criminal responsibility is provided.

Thus, a stereotype appears that the marital rape is not possible it is a fulfillment of conjugal duties. However, the concept of "conjugal duties" is absent as a justification of the marital rape according to legislation of most countries. In fact, these crimes are numerous, but not all women are willing to report it, and not everyone knows about the criminal liability for this action. This stereotype comes from an idea about the roles of men and women in a marriage. The marriage is regarded as an exclusive right of a man to have sexual relations with a woman under any circumstances. This stereotype results in violence toward the wife if she does not want to have a sexual contact.

Another stereotype concerns a private character of the marital rape. It is widely believed that sexual relations between the spouses is a private matter and ought not to be discussed publicly. Until recently, an opinion prevailed about the inappropriateness of outer intervention into intimate issues, such as violence against women. Some researchers even advanced the arguments to justify the marital rape in order to recognize it as a valid phenomenon within certain limits in the relationship between a man and a woman (Heise, Ellsberg, & Gottemoeller, 1999).

Home violence victims had to keep silence; both the rapists and the society made them do it. Women, for example, were blamed for the violence towards them because they gave rise to the rape and somehow deserved it; no one would believe their complaints; sometimes, they were simply intimidated and threatened with new violence.

Despite these pressures, the victim wants to share her emotions, to break the wall of silence surrounding the domestic violence (Bennice, Resick, Mechanic, & Astin, 2003). However, a rare woman is able to do it without assistance; most of them need to be asked. Studies prove that victims of domestic violence are able to recover from the injury, and one of the key components of healing is the presence of a confidant. This individual must be able to understand what they have experienced (Heise, Moore, & Toubia, 1995).

The woman who has experienced marital rape needs a diverse assistance, such as a group of psychological relief, shelter, legal assistance, and so on. The most important fundamental step on the road to recovery is to be heard and understood. Without this help, the woman may never take the next steps for the purpose of obtaining assistance.

Why Women Suffering from Domestic Violence

The most common reasons for which women suffering from domestic violence cannot change their life situation are:

  1. Fear of leaving (the woman who dared to leave is seriously endangered).
  2. Lack of knowledge of their rights and abilities.
  3. Housing problems (impossibility of common flat or house division).
  4. Economic problems (inability to maintain material well-being alone, absolute economic dependence on her husband, lack of work, etc.).

Numerous false social orientations related to marriage and family lead to hesitancy. Such prejudices are:

  • divorce is a sign of the woman's defeat;
  • violence is present in all families (just all family members try to hide it);
  • family is a woman's destiny, and only the woman's responsibility;
  • without a wife, a man will suffer;
  • necessity to sacrifice themselves and suffer for the sake of children;
  • the help is impossible to find - other people's problems are not interesting to anyone.

Sexual Violence

Except for the mentioned points, an illusion that violence will never happen again prevents women from leaving the family. Unfortunately, in most cases, it repeats again and again. The possibility of sexual violence depends on both the husband and the wife. A generalized social portrait of such a man and the characteristic features of his biography usually include the following features: low level of education, dominant cold mother, negative perception of the father, lack of positive emotional links with his parents, use of undeserved penalties by his parents, an increased level of libido, alcoholism, fear of women due to violations of male identity.

Marital rape is extremely harmful to both physical and psychic health of the woman. Clinical symptoms of sexual violence against women include complaints of victims about chronic pain, psychogenic pain (pain due to a diffuse injury without visible signs), gynecological abnormalities, frequent infections of the genitourinary system (dyspareunia, pelvic pain), frequent visits to doctors with uncertain complaints or symptoms with no signs of physical ailments, chronic post-traumatic stress, sleep and appetite disturbance, fatigue, decreased concentration etc.

Psychological consequences of this form of violence include the following effects: reduced self-esteem, a sense of isolation and inability to cope with the situation, depression, suicidal tendencies, alcohol abuse, the propensity to use drugs, and so on.

Among psychological effects of the marital rape, an important place is occupied by reactive (traumatic) syndrome described by Burgess and Holmstrom (1979). The authors identified two stages of the syndrome: an acute stage of disorganization with psychological, behavioral, and somatic disorders and a longer stage of reorganization. The second phase (similar to any other stress) progresses differently depending on the internal forces, social support, and specific feelings of the woman.

Reactions to Rape

Besides, the authors identify two types of reactions to rape: an "expressive" reaction, when the woman internally and externally loses her balance, and a "repressive" reaction, when negation and internal resistance prevail. They also note that in the first stage, women primarily experience feelings of guilt and dissatisfaction with themselves.

Ellis (1983) divides the reactions to the rape into three phases: short-term, intermediate, and long-term. A short-term reaction is accompanied by a set of injury symptoms such as sleep disorder, nightmares, fear, suspicion, anxiety, general depression, and social maladjustment. The crisis following the rape depends on the style of womans emotional response (Rosenhan & Seligman, 1995). During the intermediate phase, diffuse anxiety usually becomes specific, it is associated with rape. In the long-term stage, their state is completed with anger and a decreased ability to enjoy the life (Ellis, 1983).

According to the study by Renner, Wackett, and Ganderton (1988), only 10% of victims showed no behavioral disturbances after the rape. The behavior of 55% of the victims changed moderately, and 35% of victims suffered from severe maladjustment. 45% of women recover within several months (if the rape does not repeat, of course), 55% of victims suffer from long-term effects of the trauma (Renner et al., 1988).

From the above stated, it can be concluded that most of the marital rape victims suffer from reactive syndrome in varying degrees. A way out of depression and social rehabilitation usually take several months. The victims are also experiencing difficulties in interpersonal relationships with significant figures and authorities; their satisfaction with their work is below the average level, they have less hope for the future. Moreover, their self-esteem is lower comparing to other women (Murphy, Kilpatrick, Amick-McMullan, & Veronen, 1988).

The reactive syndrome does not necessarily develop immediately after the rape. If the victim asks for professional help at once after the rape, the probability that she will suffer from the above mentioned symptoms is reduced (Rosenhan & Seligman, 1995). The risk of the syndrome depends on personal characteristics of the victim. Obviously, women with a wide range of coping mechanisms and high emotional and psychological stability suffer from the reactive syndrome less.

Psychological Aid to the Victims of Domestic Violence

Psychological aid to the victims of domestic violence has two main directions:

  1. Emergency psychological aid in case of acute trauma and post-traumatic stress.
  2. Long-term support including individual counseling and group work.

Emergency aid for the victims of violence can be realized through a hotline, individual counseling, group work (debriefing), and asylum. The main objectives of emergency short-term support for the victims of violence are assessing a security level, ensuring the physical and psychological security, and normalizing the victims mental state. In case of such a need, victims must be directed to medical and law enforcement agencies.

Providing an emergency psychological assistance in acute trauma and post-traumatic stress is based on the nondirective therapy, in which more attention is paid to emotional factors and aspects of the situation than the intellectual ones. The founder of the nondirective counseling techniques Rogers emphasized that the aim of the consultant in this case is not just to interpret the events, but rather to promote the client for reaching maturity through insight and self-examination.

According to him, the client has the desire for self-actualization, which promotes personal growth and mental health. Freeing the force for growth, the client assimilates new experiences, overcomes obstacles, and reaches an emotional insight that paves the way for growth and health.

Using client-centered counseling, one may apply the techniques of empathic understanding, unconditional acceptance, and authenticity. It promotes the formation of the relationship between the counselor and the victim, which allows the client to move from a state of maladjustment to the psychological adaptation.

Thus, a specialized intervention involves resolution of current customers problems through the creation of conditions for the expression of strong emotions and gaining a sense of self-control. Such interference can change the experience of violence. Very often, this injury is superimposed by the experience of violence situations that occurred in the past. However, at this stage, the past problems can only be marked, while all attention of the consultant should be directed to the present state of the client, her thoughts and feelings.

The womans depression, although it is a common reaction to dysfunctional family relationships, requires a special attention of the consultant. Even slight depression can generate an expressed suicidal intent. The victims of violence often tell the people around them about their desire to commit suicide. It is recommended not to shy away from discussing the topic and the accompanying feelings.

At the same time, it is important to assess the probability of the intentions realization. The therapist should understand whether the choice of suicide means is made and whether they are available. The more detailed the plan of suicide is and the more real is the availability of the means, the higher is the risk of suicide. Being informed of this clients intention, the therapist should not persistently try to distract her, to prove her mistake, or to moralize. This only increases the distance with the customer. It is recommended to use the techniques of gradual indirect questioning, when the consultant just listens and does not evaluate.

Post-traumatic intervention is an attempt to make the work with the problem possible, but it is not necessarily an attempt to solve the problem. The solution of the marital rape problem requires long time. Sometimes, the victim should come to terms with the difficult situation and find an acceptable solution.

Post-Traumatic Interventions Include

Common tasks of post-traumatic interventions include the creation of conditions for:

  • expression of feelings;
  • playback of traumatic memories in order to reduce confusion;
  • clear definition of actual problems;
  • acceptance of herself and traumatic experiences by the client.

Such an intervention becomes optimal if it brings maximum results within a short period of time, suspending the development of irreversible mental processes. In the process of healing, the therapist has to create conditions for the client which let her move away from too strong emotions associated with the traumatic situation and look at it from the side. The client tells the story of the traumatic event and her response to it. The consultant helps to identify the problem, to express the feelings, and links them to events and people.

Undifferentiated stress gradually splits into separate elements. Being in the state of crisis, the person wishes to get an immediate relief. It is possible if the therapist does not try to solve the problem too quickly. The stress decreases with the discussion of the situation in the conditions of emotional support. Also, the actual problem must be identified at the cognitive level.

The situation of the marital rape needs consideration from different perspectives, regarding the past, present, and future values, life plans and objective characteristics of the situation. This is primarily a cognitive stage of the work: the customer needs to expand the horizon views. At this stage, the therapist can make common mistakes encountered in the formulation of the problem:

  • formulation of the problem is too general and impossible to work with;
  • lack of important aspects of the problem understanding by the client;
  • the customer mixes the actual problem with the past;
  • the time limit;
  • focus on the analysis of the clients feelings and needs;
  • the development of new behavioral stereotypes.

It is also important to analyze how the customers solved similar problems in the past. Such an investigation lets the client restore useful skills. The therapist must take into account that traumatic crises are often accompanied by the intensification of psychological defenses. While individual or group forms of work, psychological defense can affect the perception of information and serve as an obstacle to effective work.

Psychological defenses intensify when the person is trying to cope with the traumatic situation and all the resources and reserves are getting over. Under such circumstances, self-regulation dominates the customers behavior, causing her refusal of a constructive activity. When counseling, the therapist should take into account that people with different personal characteristics have different probability of activation of certain psychological defense mechanisms.


In conclusion, marital rape is a serious crime, which is prosecuted by the laws of many countries of the world. Mass condemnation of the marital rape started in the middle of the 20th century and is involving more and more supporters nowadays. The right of a man to use force in the case of the wifes refusal from a sexual contact is a stereotype. The public opinion often suppresses the victim, justifying the man and considering the woman as a guilty party.

As a result, the victim suffers from complexes and disappointment in the whole world. The marital rape causes damage to the spheres of both physical and psychic health. The victim withdraws into herself, she hardly establishes contacts. The woman needs comprehensive psychological support including short-term emergency aid and long-term recovery assistance. A possibility of complete recovery and its terms depend on personal features of the woman and a qualification of the consultant. Also, social environment plays a major role in the process of rehabilitation.

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