Ohio Could Become 43rd State to Close Marital Rape Loophole

Ohio made headlines recently with news that due to loopholes in state law, in certain circumstances, it is legal for a someone to rape their spouse in the state of Ohio. With bi-partisan legislation moving through the state legislature, Ohio has the opportunity to become the forty-third state in the U.S. that has modernized laws to close this ‘spousal rape’ loophole.

Overview of the Bill

Ohio House Bill 561 (Boggs, Lanese) – Sex Offenses – would eliminate the spousal exceptions for the offenses of rape, sexual battery, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, gross sexual imposition, sexual imposition, and importuning and to permit a person to testify against the person’s spouse in a prosecution for any of those offenses. Currently, because of the way that the law classifies rape and sexual assault differently for married couples, a person who drugs someone “surreptitiously or by force, threat of force, or deception” to coerce them into sex cannot be charged with rape if they are married to and living with the victim.

Adding our Voice

Last week, the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee held a second hearing on the bill. Our Managing Director, Erin Ryan, testified in support of HB 561 at its second hearing, adding our voice to the conversation about why closing this outdated loophole is so critical to women who have experienced rape or sexual assault at the hands of a spouse. Below is a sample of her testimony:

“This outdated loophole means that there are no legal options to prosecute the crime if the person is drugged and raped by their spouse – and it is deeply rooted in victim-blaming culture and reinforces an outdated belief that married women are the property of their husbands. House Bill 561 would remove this problematic loophole by eliminating the words “not the spouse of the offender” from the state code for cases of rape, sexual battery, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, gross sexual imposition, and sexual imposition. This legislation would also allow for a person to testify against their spouse in a prosecution for any of these offenses. It would provide equal protections under the law for married survivors and victims of sexual offenses, bringing Ohio’s laws into the 21st century.

Women disproportionately experience domestic violence and sexual assault – issues that not only affect the health and safety of women, but also permeate into the workforce by affecting productivity, jeopardizing the safety of victims and co-workers, and increasing absenteeism and employee turnover. Often times, sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner occurs with other forms of abusive behavior, such as physical abuse. Research has found that the majority of women who were physically abused by an intimate partner had also been sexually assaulted by the same partner.

As a consequence of this loophole, many women may not recognize that they have been victims of marital rape, or they may be cautious to question or resist unwanted sexual advances from their spouse. House Bill 561 would remove that barrier, providing married victims equal access to protections under the law to seek legal recourse against their spouse for sexual abuse.”

If passed, Ohio would become the forty-third state in the country to take action to remove the marital rape loophole. The passage of this bill is vital to ensuring that victims and survivors of sexual offenses are able to seek legal recourse and justice, regardless of whether or not they are married to the perpetrator. Read our full testimony here.

What’s Next?

The House Criminal Justice Committee will hold a third hearing on the bill this week for all testimony, and the bill has been flagged for a possible vote. If passed, the bill would head to the full House for consideration. It would then need to move through the Senate before the end of the legislative session in order to be sent to the Governor to be signed or vetoed.

Take Action

Contact the House Criminal Justice Committee and urge them to vote yes if called for a vote during Wednesday’s hearing:

Hearing Schedule

  • Tuesday, 1:30 pm, Rm. 114. – 3rd Hearing-All testimony-Possible vote

More information

Read the text of House Bill 561

For more general information on House Bill 561

View the hearing schedule and contact information for members of the House Criminal Justice committee

Read Erin Ryan’s full testimony here on behalf of the Women’s Public Policy Network

Read all other testimony from hearings on House Bill 561, including many of our coalition partners