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A lec­ture on mar­i­tal rape at SAR

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Jen­nifer Levin I The New Mex­i­can

Rape within mar­riage was not fully crim­i­nal­ized in the United States un­til 1993. North Car­olina was the last hold­out, ac­cord­ing to Ker­sti A. Yllö, pro­fes­sor emerita of so­ci­ol­ogy at Wheaton Col­lege. Yllö has stud­ied do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and sex­ual as­sault since the first so­ci­o­log­i­cal stud­ies on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence came out in the 1970s, when she was in grad­u­ate school. Her first book on mar­i­tal rape, Li­cense to Rape: Sex­ual Abuse of Wives, was pub­lished in 1985, co-au­thored with David Finkel­hor. At the time, there was vir­tu­ally no aca­demic re­search on the topic.

“In our book, we ar­gued that the mar­riage li­cense was a li­cense to rape be­cause wife-rape was le­gal then for al­most all of the coun­try,” Yllö said. She ex­plained that the no­tion of per­ma­nent con­sent goes back to Bri­tish com­mon law and Sir Matthew Hale, a 17th­cen­tury ju­rist who said that the hus­band and wife le­gally be­came one per­son upon mar­riage. “It was seen as the equiv­a­lent of a hus­band rap­ing him­self. You couldn’t steal your own prop­erty and you couldn’t rape your own wife. That no­tion con­tin­ued through the 1980s.”

In re­cent years, Yllö has turned to an in­ter­na­tional fo­cus in her re­search. She and a fel­low Wheaton fac­ulty mem­ber, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of an­thro­pol­ogy M. Gabriela Tor­res, held a small con­fer­ence a few years ago that was the im­pe­tus for Mar­i­tal Rape: Con­sent, Mar­riage, and So­cial Change in Global Con­text, pub­lished by Ox­ford Univer­sity Press in 2016. The ed­i­tors and con­trib­u­tors wanted to iden­tify the nu­ances of forced sex within mar­riage in cul­tures that don’t nec­es­sar­ily crim­i­nal­ize the act, in coun­tries that may view mar­riage and per­sonal au­ton­omy much dif­fer­ently than we do in the United States. Now Yllö and Tor­res have come to­gether with a di­verse group of schol­ars from around the world to ap­proach meth­ods of cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive in­ter­ven­tion for women who are suf­fer­ing the ef­fects of sex­ual vi­o­la­tion.

Yllö and Tor­res lead a pub­lic panel dis­cus­sion, “Mar­i­tal Rape in a Global Con­text,” on Thurs­day, Oct. 18, at SAR. Among the women on the SAR panel is a sur­vivor of mar­i­tal rape in Burk­ina Faso who sought asy­lum in the United States. Tor­res some­times serves as an ex­pert wit­ness in such asy­lum cases,

es­pe­cially for women from Gu­atemala. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions re­cently de­clared that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is no longer grounds for asy­lum in the United States, al­though this is cur­rently be­ing chal­lenged by the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union in Grace v. Ses­sions, in which Tor­res is the ex­pert wit­ness.

As an an­thro­pol­o­gist, Tor­res ap­proaches the study of other cul­tures in a rel­a­tivist way, mean­ing that she is there to learn how peo­ple un­der­stand their lives and com­mu­ni­ties — and not to pass judg­ment on vic­tims or per­pe­tra­tors of mar­i­tal rape. “It’s only in our par­tic­u­lar le­gal con­text that we think con­sent is some­thing that should be sought at ev­ery sex­ual act. This is not a com­monly shared no­tion across the world,” she said. “We wanted to re­ally try to un­der­stand, to what ex­tent is there rape in mar­riage? It’s ev­ery­where — so do peo­ple un­der­stand it as forced sex? And more im­por­tantly, do they un­der­stand it as harm? In our first book, we see that peo­ple be­ing forced into sex in their in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships see it as harm­ful to them. It makes women feel less able to lead ful­fill­ing lives.”

In some cul­tures, such as Gu­atemala, she said, women un­der­stand forced sex in mar­riage as some­thing they must en­dure — and they take pride in their abil­ity to en­dure it suc­cess­fully. In many cul­tures, mar­i­tal rape tends to be just one ele­ment on a spec­trum of what Amer­i­can re­searchers would con­sider abuse. The in­ter­dis­ci­plinary ap­proach of the SAR sem­i­nar in­cludes psy­cho­log­i­cal and pub­lic health ap­proaches to harm re­duc­tion rather than a strictly Western hu­man­i­tar­ian ap­proach, which is not al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated in other coun­tries.

Dur­ing the last few weeks, Amer­i­cans have watched Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Ka­vanaugh and the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment de­fend his rep­u­ta­tion and ca­reer prospects from a sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tion stem­ming from his teenage years. Ka­vanaugh’s al­leged vic­tim, Chris­tine Blasey Ford, held the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion on Sept. 27 with her emo­tional but lev­el­headed Se­nate tes­ti­mony about that long-ago night in ques­tion. What has be­come clear is that in this #MeToo mo­ment, ap­proach­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of rape, sex­ual as­sault, and abuse can no longer be over­sim­pli­fied as “he said-she said” sit­u­a­tions.

“For all the pub­lic at­ten­tion to #MeToo, we have not heard one peep about mar­i­tal rape,” Yllö said — ex­cept for the me­dia re­port­ing on the fact that Pres­i­dent Trump’s first wife had ac­cused him of rape dur­ing their di­vorce pro­ceed­ings (a claim she later walked back). “If it feels shame­ful to women to say that a guy jumped on them in high school, it’s much more dif­fi­cult to ac­knowl­edge or talk about ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this with your hus­band.” Yllö para­phrased a line from Li­cense to Rape in or­der to high­light the se­ri­ous­ness of such a dis­tinc­tion: “When you’ve been raped by a stranger, you live with a fright­en­ing mem­ory. When you’ve been raped by your hus­band, you live with your rapist … Mar­i­tal rape is the lynch­pin of the pa­tri­archy — the most per­sonal way in which men still own women’s bod­ies.”

In In­dia, ef­forts to crim­i­nal­ize rape in mar­riage have failed be­cause, as politi­cians there have ex­plained, “mar­riages are sacro­sanct.” And in Vietnam, the ideal of a happy fam­ily means that any vi­o­lence com­mit­ted by a hus­band against a wife is con­sid­ered a woman’s fail­ure to create a pleas­ing home life. Given the vast dif­fer­ences be­tween cul­tural be­liefs on the topic around the world, one ba­sic ques­tion arises: Is there any lo­cale in which the re­searchers found women who were con­tent with forced sex in their own mar­riages?

“No,” Yllö said. “We re­ally haven’t found that. Most of the an­thro­pol­o­gists who have talked to these women have a sense that there is no al­ter­na­tive, that this is life. But I don’t think the word ‘con­tent­ment’ is ap­pro­pri­ate. How many peo­ple are happy with forced sex? I would say zero.”

de­tails

“Mar­i­tal Rape in a Global Con­text: So­cial Suf­fer­ing, Ad­verse Health Con­se­quences, and Cul­tur­ally Sen­si­tive In­ter­ven­tion,” a panel dis­cus­sion with M. Gabriela Tor­res and Ker­sti A. Yllö, pre­sented by the School for Ad­vanced Re­search 5 p.m. Thurs­day, Oct. 18 Eric S. Dobkin Board­room at the School for Ad­vanced Re­search, 660 Gar­cia St. There is no charge for ad­mis­sion but ad­vance reg­is­tra­tion is en­cour­aged: sar­web.org

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