For Survivors of Marital / Partner Rape
Have you been forced into sex with your partner? Perhaps it involved you being beaten or threatened with weapons, or your partner may have badgered you, withdrawing affection or refusing to allow you to sleep until you give in. You may have been drunk or drugged, or your partner set you up for gang-rape. Maybe it happened many times, or maybe once - and once is once too many. Please know that there is compassion and support available for you. At Pandora's Project, we recognize the unique issues that survivors of sexual assault by an intimate partner face. First, there is the fact that social attitudes often minimize marital and partner rape and do not believe it constitutes a serious trauma. Research, however, has shown that intimate relationships are one of the commonest settings for sexual assault, that partner rape entails the highest levels of repeated rape and physical injury, and that the trauma may be longer-lasting than for survivors of other types of rape (please see this page for research and citations).
Ideas about what "real" rape is combined with other issues like society being slow to name this problem and assumptions that being in a relationship equals unlimited consent, means that survivors of partner rape, even if they are traumatized, have a hard time recognizing that what happened was rape. This can delay healing and prolong danger for them. Some survivors, however, unequivocally know that they were raped and struggle with frustration at the lack of validation they receive - for example, church, family or friends advise them that it isn't really rape, and to remain with the perpetrator.
Partner rape may happen in relationships that are otherwise respectful and egalitarian, but it frequently does involve other forms of abuse and control - please see this page. People often don't realize that leaving can be extremely dangerous for a woman who is being raped by her partner. The risk of more violence including battery, rape and homicide escalates after separation.
If you have been forced or coerced into sex acts with your partner, what is happening to you is a crime. Please see this page for definitions of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse. Please don't let anybody minimize it. Just as importantly, even if you don't feel that what happened to you can be called rape or sexual assault, if your partner is doing things to you sexually that are causing you pain, you deserve to get support.
What you may be feeling
This is not an exhaustive list but what follows are some very common ways that survivors of partner rape feel.
You may be some years out of the relationship and still struggling to define what happened to you. You may feel ashamed that you kept it secret for so long, and wonder if you can call it rape so long after the fact. Some survivors report "feeling like liars" in calling partner rape by it's name. You may be afraid that people will blame you because you remained in the relationship after being sexually assaulted, or may say that it couldn't have harmed you too badly. You may be so traumatized that you've attempted to forget about it but find that it emerges in nightmares or flashbacks. This may be triggered by ongoing contact with the perpetrator via custody of children, or attendance at the same school. If your partner presented as a good person socially, others may not have believed you, or may have been hostile to you, and you perhaps now feel that there's nowhere to turn. You may feel as if you're "overreacting" by being upset by it.
If you are still living with the partner who sexually assaulted you, you may feel isolated, frightened, deeply betrayed and hurt. You may feel reluctant to call a partner you still love a rapist, or may feel as if you're committing a betrayal by talking about it. You may be deeply ashamed and wonder what it is you're doing wrong, or scared that others will blame you or demand that you leave. If you are contemplating leaving, you may be frightened for your life (with good reason), or afraid that you will be a bad parent. You may be afraid of seeking help, or you might squash your pain with drinking and drugs.
These are all very normal reactions. It is important that you know that whatever your situation is, you have the same right to healing and support as any other survivor of rape.
What does Pandora's Project offer survivors of marital and partner rape?
Marital Rape researcher Raquel Kennedy Bergen found that what survivors of partner rape most frequently want is support groups comprising other survivors who have shared their experiences (Wife Rape: Understanding the Response of Survivors and Service Providers, Sage Publications, California, 1996). Our messageboard and chatroom, Pandora's Aquarium, has many members who are survivors of partner rape. They will make you very welcome and help you feel less alone - whether you are still in the relationship or not. We have a forum for survivors of relationship violence where people post about all sorts of situations - somebody has felt as you feel. There are specific discussions for those who feel able to participate - recent ones include:
- Abusers and their denial
- Relationship Violence and pregnancy
- The weird things abusers do
- The adultery
- How has the physical violence effected you?
- Mind Games
- Why do we stay?
- The rape
If you are in danger, we espouse a policy of safety first and we suggest that you make use of crisis resources. We hope that if you are in danger, you will find help to the freedom you deserve. But nobody will tell you what to do, blame you or minimize what happened to you. We are committed to offering quality peer-support for survivors of partner rape. You can post as much or as little as you like, or not at all - some survivors just feel comforted by reading the words of other survivors. If you would like to know how to join Pandora's Aquarium, please see this page.
Resources for survivors of partner rape
If you are in danger now, please consider making use of the hotlines on this page If it isn't safe to call from your phone, can you use a friend's phone?
Links to Sites and Articles about Marital / Partner Rape
Aphrodite Wounded: Site of Pandora's Project Board of Directors member and Pandora's Aquarium moderator Louise for women who have survived marital and partner rape. Also has a page for male, gay and lesbian survivors here, and a page of articles here.
Marital/Partner Rape - What to do, legal directions etc by Womenslaw.org
Vow of Silence - Survivors including Louise and workers talk about partner rape [pdf]br /> Sleeping with the Enemy - pdf article Louise appeared in [pdf]
Raped by Someone you Love - UK feature with Louise and two other survivors
WomensLaw.org - Legal help for women in violent relationships
This is Not an Invitation to Rape Me - Rape Crisis Scotland initiative that tackles myths about partner rape
Hidden Hurt Marital Rape Article - by a survivor
Mother speaks out after prosecuting partner for attempted rape (News article)
What is Teen Dating Violence?
Help with Teen Dating Violence From WomensLaw.org
I've Thought About Leaving - How can I do it?
Considering the Differences: Intimate Partner Sexual Violence in Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Discourse - WCSAP Connections article by Louise McOrmond-Plummer
Articles on relationship abuse
Guest Speaker Chat with expert/author Lundy Bancroft
Suggested reading for survivors of partner rape (See relationship abuse). You may also find some of these titles in our Lending Library.
Baby, everybody's had to fight to be free -
see, you don't have to live like a refugee.
- Tom Petty