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Michigan Legislature getting closer to closing marital rape loophole

Posted at 5:17 PM, Jun 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-22 17:20:29-04

LANSING, Mich. — Under a controversial current law, a person who drugs and rapes their spouse could be protected from criminal charges. The Michigan Legislature is working toward changing that.

Earlier this week, the House unanimously passed a bill to close that loophole.

“Currently marital rape is banned in all 50 states," said state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia. "But there are three exceptions that are explicitly outlined in Michigan law.”

Those three exceptions she’s talking about can protect someone from criminal charges if their spouse is under 16 years old, if the person is mentally incapable or if the person is mentally incapacitated.

“Mentally incapacitated is defined as someone who has been drugged without their consent. So, that is a very clear cut definition, and it is very easy to just strike that out of the law and close that loophole," Rep. Pohutsky said. "So really, HB 4699 closes a loophole in Michigan law that allows for marital rape in some circumstances, namely when the when the person is drugged without their consent.”

In Michigan and across the U.S., instances of marital rape are under reported, and according to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, about one-third of women report having unwanted sex with their partner. It’s also important to note that marital rape can happen to men as well.

“It's one of those crimes that goes unreported," said Leah Dryer, the community outreach director of End Violent Encounters in Lansing. "Sexual assault is one of the most under reported crimes in general, and so when you add marriage to that and that stigma that once you're married, that person has control over your body, that's been a social stigma from way back at the time.”

End Violent Encounters, which is a Lansing-based shelter and provider for those experiencing domestic violence, is supportive of this new legislation.

“I'm glad to see that we're kind of getting away from that ideology and that we have these bills that will help support and move that forward," Dryer said. "Sexual assaults already are an under-reported crime, and it's also very hard to prove. So, removing that obstacle for survivors is very important.”

The work to close these loopholes isn’t done just yet. The state Senate still needs to pass the bill, and it needs to be signed by the governor before that archaic and controversial law is removed.

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