Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

MA in Women's History


Women’s History Graduate Program


Marital rape remained a legally sanctioned crime in the United States until the 1970s. This absence in rape statutes was known as the marital rape exemption. This thesis integrates the legal and social perspectives of marital rape activism, opposition, and laws with a focus from 1974-1989. At its core, the marital rape exemption prioritized the protection of certain rape victims, over others and allowed perpetrators of violence against women to be exonerated for their actions. Some U.S. states still retain privileges for marital rapists, including paying fees and attending counseling in place of incarceration, require physical force in order for the crime to be considered rape, and allow the marital relationship to aid in the defendant’s case. Understanding the complex history and prejudices of marital rape is essential to completely abolishing the marital rape exemption and other loopholes in rape statutes in the United States.