Support for Women Sexually Assaulted by Male Partners
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"Myths keep us from doing the work we need to do based on Truth"  
~ Cassandra Thomas ~


"IPSV"="Intimate Partner Sexual Violence"


Myths about sexual violence by partners simultaneously deny its existence and permit it to continue.

Myths about partner rape give men permission to rape wives and girlfriends with impunity.They propagate the idea that women and girls are male property, not free to make choices about their own bodies, and that a man is entitled to take sex by force from his partner.

Even people who consider themselves to be anti-rape, are apt to say rape is criminal/disgusting/morally reprehensible etc. only to change their minds when it comes to finding out a woman's attacker was her husband or boyfriend. But it is not enough to just challenge sexual violence in it's more recognized forms; it must be challenged on all fronts . Anything less sustains and even condones sexual violence to women.

Myths silence and ignore women abused. They exempt women raped by partners from finding validation and healing, and prolong trauma for survivors.

These are all very good reasons to challenge myths.

 Under no circumstances is one rape 'more okay' than another. If you are a survivor who, because of these myths, has had trouble understanding that you were sexually assaulted and that you have a right to heal, this page may help.

If you are somebody who subscribes to these myths - for example you believe that partner rape is just sex one more time with a sexual partner - I hope you come away from this page with a different vciew. It will certainly be more helpful to survivors you may meet.

"If a boyfriend or husband forces sex on you it's not rape".
Yes, it is. How can something be done by a stranger and be a crime, but the same act in a different context be tolerated? Sexual violence does not become permissible because the rapist is a sexual intimate of the woman. This myth assumes that a woman's right to withdraw consent is voided by the fact of a relationship. It also assumes that a man may have sex whenever he wants, whether his partner is willing or not.

"Husbands/boyfriends are not "real" rapists".
Anyone who rapes is a rapist. Studies tell us that most rapists are married or engaged in some other sexual relationship (1). This means that many rapists are somebody's partner. Why, then, is it so ludicrous to imagine that men in relationships can rape other women but not their partners? The research of Nicholas Groth on why men rape also concluded that the motives of strangers who rape often do not differ greatly from the motives of partners who rape (2). It is also true that partner rapists who batter are statistically more likely to eventually murder the women they rape, than men who batter but do not rape (3) - this is the ultimate expression of power and ownership that rape is a forerunner for. Please go here for a comparison of motives between partner rapists and stranger rapists.

"It's not rape if a woman is confused about whether her experience was rape or not, or doesn't call it rape"
These ideas gained currency in the 1990s with books and articles that stated that rape was a product of feminist hysteria, and that women are encouraged by man-hating feminists or women's groups to call non-rape experiences rape. There are many, many reasons that women raped by partners might be confused about whether their experiences were rape, or are unable or unwilling to call it rape. There is much pain and confusion around naming, and some of the confusion is caused by internalization of myths about what is real rape. Here, one must agree with Robyn Warshaw, who wrote in her book "I Never Called It Rape", "Not knowing the right label for an experience doesn't mean it didn't happen (4)".
Sometimes, women do not want to name a rape because they genuinely love their partners and the implications are too painful. This myth insults women in assuming that they don't have minds of their own. It is often within the arena of women's groups that a girl or a woman raped by a partner gains permission to validate what she already felt. Myths are stripped away, and she can name in a supportive environment. This is a good thing. Naming rape is heartbreaking, if healing, but it is not something women do for the fun of it. Naming cannot victimize an already victimized person, but it can help her heal.

Why has she decided she was raped now? Isn't this proof that women "change their minds and cry rape"?
We sort of got into this in the last paragraph, but I think it requires further expansion. Survivors of partner rape torment themselves about being seen as flaky hysterics or even liars for naming rape some time, even years, after it happened (5). There is shame for having kept it a secret. If you are such a woman, think about the pressures such as fear, loyalty, shame or other that you were under to "keep it secret." Perhaps you didn't know at the time that it was rape. It may be that like many of us you bought into the myths about only stranger rape, or very violent rape, being real rape. Maybe it was just too traumatic to address at the time, but now there is space in your life to do so. For the survivor of partner rape, "changing her mind later" is often an essential part of healing.

"It's not rape if a woman remains with, or returns to, the man who raped her."
Some women feel deep shame if they remained in the relationship, or went back to the perpetrator after being raped by him (6). They may also feel as if this means as if they are not entitled to call a rape by it's name. This myth is not even logical because it assumes that a rape can suddenly "unbecome" a rape. It assumes that women must think, or behave, in prescribed ways in order for a rape to remain a rape, or for a woman to have the right of naming. It is based in part on notions of how a "good" victim behaves. This myth asks us to believe in a "back to the future" mentality, where time and events can be fiddled. Imagine if such absurd criteria were applied to robbery? If somebody stole your money, and you forgave that person, would that mean that you actually gave them the money? No, and neither does a rape magically transform into an act of consensual sex because of choices you make. You have the right to name and to heal.

"If the rape were so terrible, she'd have left".
This is a twist on the old "partner rape isn't a real trauma" thing. We also see again expectations of how a "real" victim should behave. But these are rules based in stranger rape. There are many reasons for not leaving, and none of them means that the rape is not serious or traumatic. The fact that a woman may feel deep love for her partner can make it all the more traumatic. This myth also ignores the many reasons that women are terrified of leaving abusive relationships - often with good reason - statistically, the risk of further violence including homicide, increases when a woman is leaving a violent relationship (7). An abuser may go to great lengths to re-establish control. See this page for more on why women stay.

"If a woman does not end the relationship, surely the continuance of sexual violence is her fault".
Surely not. Sexual violence is the fault of the man who perpetrates it. In healing, sometimes we need to acknowledge that some of our choices weren't the best - but only after we establish that the perpetrator alone is responsible for the sexual assaults. It's his fault for taking advantage of the relationship to continue harming her. Our choices are often made in an atmosphere of trauma, out of love, or perhaps fear that we will be killed if we leave. We are trying to survive, and this NEVER justifies rape. As well, this myth ignores the fact that men who rape their partners often do so because she left - as a means of reclaiming or punishing her.

"Rape by a partner is really just kinky sex - some women are masochistic and into the rough stuff".
Women who practice sadomasochistic sex have the same right as any other woman not to be raped. B/D & S/M practitioners hold the consent of both parties in high regard. Some sexually damaged women may have self-destructive experiences in which they ask their partners to hurt them sexually. But they do not call these experiences rape. They know the difference. Sexual games happen with consent; rape does not. Please, see this article on the difference between the BDSM lifestyle and domestic violence.

"Women fantasize about rape. Mightn't rape by a partner just be an expression of this?"
No - again, rape is not just kinky sex. Women do fantasize about being overcome by somebody's passion - this is due to many factors - but the same women are aware that there is a difference between a fantasy and being hurt and degraded. It does not mean they want to be raped, nor could it ever justify criminal behaviour. It appears that the idea that women really want to be raped is a male fantasy of a female fantasy (8). Rape is in fact a common male fantasy because there are many men who see rape as an act of virility, and who admire the idea of power over women that rape conveys (9).

"A woman raped by her partner is not a real rape victim."
A real rape victim is anybody who has had sexual activity forced on her without her consent, regardless of the context. How can somebody be "less" raped, or "only a little bit" raped? The above idea is enshrined from the courts down. However, two judges did make the following comment, which is clearly supportive of the idea that rape in relationships is as serious as any other: "Indeed, it might be said that to rape the mother of your children makes the offence that much worse" (10). and: "You just can't have people thinking they can do things to their wife that they couldn't do to a stranger. It's just not on" (11).

 "A woman must be sick to still love somebody who raped her"
No, she is not 'sick'. Rules such as this, again, apply to stranger rape, still seen in many minds as the only real rape. For many women, the emotional and other ties are very deep, and cannot be automatically severed because an act of violence has taken place The partner who raped her might be in all other respects a loving partner; rarely is he just somebody who raped her.

'Rape by partners is not a real trauma'
Go here for the serious and sometimes long term effects women raped by partners may suffer. And if you don't know (and I hope you don't), imagine what it might be like to be violated by somebody you love and trust, and to have larger society keep insisting that it can't really have hurt you, or that by dint of choosing a certain partner, you chose to be raped.

'Rape by a partner is not 'real rape' unless it's extremely violent'.
Beside the fact that most rape in any context is not overtly violent, why should a woman be beaten to prove she didn't consent? Many women cease the struggle in a rape situation because they fear being hurt more. The fear of some women that their partners will do further harm to them if they continue to resist is not groundless - some women are badly beaten; further, women who have been subjected to more coercive forms of sexual assault often still experience major traumatic impact. (12). Perpetrators are often also skilled in other tactics than overt violence to get what they want (13). It is still without consent; it is rape.

'Men who rape their ex partners are heartbroken and trying to get back with them'.
Rape after the end of a relationships is more about a sense of entitlement than heartache. On such grounds, judges have passed lighter sentences to men who raped ex-partners (14).  Such men may wish for reconciliation, but this never a justification for rape. This myth confuses rape with love or sex.; it is turned into a "crime of passion". In fact rape by men who wish to reconcile with ex-partners is an act of ownership and control, or may be a vicious retaliation upon the woman for ending the relationship. A man who wants to get back with his partner might try sending flowers. Other than that, when the relationship is over, the man must accept it and desist harassing or violent behavior. Also, where is the sympathy for what rape does to the woman? What about her feelings and wishes and her right to end a relationship without being raped?

"Men who rape their partners are sexually frustrated because she's 'frigid"
It's true that men may be frustrated at partners who don't desire sex, or whose needs are not commensurate with their own. But this myth confuses rape with sex, and should not justify criminal behaviour. Moreover, researchers find that women who have experienced partner rape do not withhold sex from their partners when approached with affection and respect (14). Most men know that there are other ways to address sexual frustration than committing rape! There is also the belief in some quarters that a "withholding" wife deserves everything she gets. But nobody ever deserves to be raped.

"Forced sex on a partner isn't rape because they have a relationship and the man believes she is consenting".
No. Partners have a responsibility to seek consent. Consent once does not mean consent always. Men who rape their partners often do not care whether consent is present or not. Where there has been a genuinely mistaken belief, a man needs to revise his understanding of what consent is. It is dubious to place too much faith in mistaken belief - it is a defensive posture too easily made in the rape of a partner. (16).

"Women lie about partner rape to win custody battles ".
Speakers of this myth lie about the number of women lying about partner rape! I am not a proponent of the idea that women never lie. But when one person does lie, people tend to see it as part of a wider pattern, which it isn't. False accusations of rape are no more common than false accusations for any other crime. When it comes to partner rape, the number of cases reported and then successfully prosecuted is in fact particularly low (17). When marital rape was criminalized, politicians, clergy and lawmakers fell all over themselves with anxiety that this would mean the courts would be deluged with false reports from vindictive women. But this has not happened. In the words of a US senator commenting about the tiny amount of charges brought by wives: "The limited number of cases do not raise my apprehensions" (18).The real truth is that women are are too often silent about partner rape.
  1. Shapcott, D, The Face of the Rapist: Why Men Rape - The Myths Exposed, Penguin Books, Ringwood (1988)
  2. Cited in Russell, Diana E.H., Rape in Marriage, Indiana University Press, USA (1990)
  3. Browne, 1987; Campbell, 1989, cited in Bergen, R, Wife Rape: Understanding the Response of Survivors and Service Providers, Sage Publications, California, 1996
  4. Warshaw, R, I Never called it Rape: The MS. Report on recognizing, fighting and surviving date and acquaintance rape , HarperPerennial, New York 1994
  5. Easteal, P, and McOrmond-Plummer, L, Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for women sexually assaulted by male partners, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 1996
  6. Easteal, P, and McOrmond-Plummer, L, Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for women sexually assaulted by male partners, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 1996
  7. Bergen, R, Wife Rape: Understanding the Response of Survivors and Service Providers, Sage Publications, California, 1996
  8. Russell, Diana E.H., Rape in Marriage, Indiana University Press, USA, 1990
  9. Hite, Shere, The Hite Report on Male Sexuality:How Men Feel About Love, Sex and Relationships, Ballantine Books, USA (1982)
  10. Easteal, P. Rape in Marriage: Has the License Lapsed? in Balancing the Scales: Rape, Law Reform and Australian Culture, Ed. Easteal, P, The Federation Press, NSW (1988)
  11. van der Zandt, P. Heroines of Fortitude, in Balancing the Scales: Rape, Law Reform and Australian Culture, Ed. Easteal, P, The Federation Press, NSW (1988,
  12. Browne, 1987; Campbell 1989, cited in Bergen, R, Wife Rape: Understanding the Response of Survivors and Service Providers, Sage Publications, California, 1996
  13. Easteal, P, and McOrmond-Plummer, L, Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for women sexually assaulted by male partners, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 1996
  14. Easteal, P. Rape in Marriage: Has the License Lapsed? in Balancing the Scales: Rape, Law Reform and Australian Culture, Ed. Easteal, P, The Federation Press, NSW (1988)
  15. Finkelhor, D.and Yllo, K., License to Rape: Sexual Abuse of Wives, The Free Press, New York 1985;
  16. Warner, K. Sentencing for Rape, in Balancing the Scales: Rape, Law Reform and Australian Culture, Ed. Easteal, P, The Federation Press, NSW (1988)
  17. Easteal, P. and Feerick, C. (2005) “Sexual assault by male partners: is the license still
    valid?” Flinders Journal of Law Reform 8, 2, 185–207.
  18. Russell, Diana E.H., Rape in Marriage, Indiana University Press, USA 1990