In recognition of Sexual Abuse Awareness Week, this article specifically explores rape within a marriage. 

In some religions, the words ‘I do’ are exchanged between husband and wife during the marriage ceremony.  Two small words and three letters in total that shares a commitment between two people to embark on a legally binding and hopefully loving life together.

What isn’t a part of the ceremony are the words ‘I don’t’ and more specifically, ‘I don’t want to’ when it comes to consenting to sex in marriage. Having sex with you against your consent is called rape, regardless if you are ‘married’ or not.

Being married also doesn’t mean that you have to have sex. Forced sex or sexual activity is against the law, and has been for over 30 years in the UK and yet, sadly, as recent as 2018, a YouGov survey found that almost a quarter of people didn’t believe that non-consensual sex was a crime in a long term relationship. Non consensual sex is a crime. it is #NotOk. It is never ok and there is only ever one person to blame for rape – the person committing the crime. Being married to them doesn’t make them immune despite what people may think.

Rape can happen to anyone at any time. Victims can be raped by a friend, family member or a stranger and statistics show that 1 in 2 rapes of adults are carried out by their partner or ex-partner and 1 in 3 adult survivors of rape experience it in their own home.

For the perpetrator, rape is all about power and control. If someone doesn’t consent to sex, then it is rape. Rape Crisis explains what consent means:

Consent happens when all people involved in any kind of sexual activity agree to take part by choice. They also need to have the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

Breaking that down, if it’s not your choice, if you don’t want to or can’t or don’t know how to say no to sex, if you change your mind at any time and there’s no consent but you’re forced into sex, that means it is rape.  

According to Rape Crisis, not having the freedom or capacity to consent to sexual activity means if someone:

  • is sleeping or unconscious.
  • is too intoxicated to make an informed choice, either through drink or drug use.
  • has been ‘spiked’ – when someone puts drugs or alcohol into your drink without you knowing.
  • is too young.
  • has a mental health disorder or illness that means they are unable to make a choice.
  • is being pressured, bullied, manipulated, tricked or scared into saying ‘yes’.
  • is using physical force against them.

If you say ‘yes’ because you’re fearful of what might happen if you say ‘no’, that’s still a long way from consenting to sexual activity.

We mentioned statistics earlier on in this article, and behind every statistic, behind every number is a person – a victim or a survivor.  Shockingly here are some more recent findings that highlights just how big an issue rape is.

  • 1 in 4 women have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult
  • 1 in 6 children have been sexually abused
  • 1 in 20 men have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult
  • Only 1 in 100 rapes reported to police result in a charge – not a conviction
  • 1 in 2 rapes against women are carried out by their partner or ex-partner
  • 1 in 3 adult victims and survivors of rape experience it in the own home
  • 5 in 6 women and 4 in 5 men who are raped have not reported to the police
  • 98% of adults prosecuted for sexual offences are men
  • 1 in 2 adult survivors of rape have experienced it more than once
  • 9 in 10 girls and young women in schools say sexist name calling and being sent unwanted ‘dick pics’ and other images of a sexual nature happens to them or other girls their age

Source: Rape Crisis England & Wales (May 2022)


For anyone reading this and wanting support, we’d first like to share this inspirational quote:

You are not a victim for sharing your story. You are a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth. And you never know who needs your light, your warmth and raging courage.

Alex Elle

And finally, here are some specialist places you can get help:

Our thanks go to Sarah, Nicole and Julie for their contributions to this article.