By Susi Felton, Counsellor at The Eaves
It’s nearly 20 years since marital rape arrived on the statute book as a criminal offence in the UK under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. How has this worked in practice? And why so long to get here? The difficulty for policymakers is that marriage/partnerships are assumed to be consensual when it comes to sexual issues. The earliest case dates back to 1736, the next one 1991 before finally making the Statute book in 2003.
Public attitude towards sexual abuse
We appear to have made progress. Many people think that the criminal justice system now works better with more cases being reported. Relationship education in schools has improved. And yet, according to a survey by YouGov survey in 2018:
- 33% of respondents think forced sex is OK if there is no violence.
- A third of men think flirting on a date indicates consent.
- A third of men think consent can’t be retracted during sex.
- A third think long term relationships don’t require consent for sex.
There is also a generational issue: 35% of over 65s think non-consensual sex within marriage/partnerships is mostly not rape. Thankfully the percentages do reduce at the age range 16-24 years. Younger women have a more defined view of consent and are more likely to report an assault. However, these figures are alarming in that they depict the mindset of a large part of the adult population which may feed into long term relationships.
So we can see a culture of acceptance of marital/partner rape is still prevalent, both in the UK and also in many parts of the world. Easy access to porn can mean a partner is subjected to a sexual practice they may not consent to whilst consenting to other practices.
What help is there for those brave enough to seek legal redress? Not as much as we would like. There is no automatic right to access counselling: funding issues and long waiting lists are all too common. Juries in court proceedings may hold outdated views and convictions are still too low.
These people in relationships have often also endured a mix of non-consensual sex together with other methods of domestic violence which reinforces outdated attitudes as to why they stay with their abusers. There are cultural issues that reinforce these attitudes. So they suffer the violence which in turn implies the sex is always consensual.
Support for victims of sexual abuse
Should sexual awareness modules be mandatory in our therapy training? Perhaps. Meanwhile, how can we as therapists support those who have experienced abuse? By giving you a voice, listening carefully to your concerns and empowering you to make your own choices as to how you want to live your life.
I am pleased to work with The Eaves based in Surrey. Remote counselling is offered as well as face to face so you can choose a time and place to suit you. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need a safe place to talk.