The Nightie Defense
01.16.14 10:45 AM ET
Virginia Legislator Running for Congress Says Spousal Rape Should Be Legal
Good news for Virginians living in the 13th district who think that husbands should be allowed to rape their wives: State Senator Richard “Dick” Black has fought for your right to do so. And now he’s running for Congress.
The rabidly conservative Republican was one of the state delegates who argued against criminalizing spousal rape in 2002, asking his fellow assemblymen, “How on earth you could validly get a conviction of a husband-wife rape when they’re living together, sleeping in the same bed, she’s in a nightie, and so forth, there’s no injury, there’s no separation or anything.”
Not everyone agreed with Black’s logic that wearing a nightie is an invitation for non-consensual sex (legislation exempting spousal rape from being prosecuted was repealed). Marital rape has been illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia since 1993, according to RAINN, America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. The crime remains a serious issue (a third of all domestic violence cases involve spousal rape), but often goes unpunished because, like all rape cases, it can be difficult to prove. “When there’s not a third party witness or no external reference it becomes his word against hers,” said RAINN president and founder Scott Berkowitz. “So it’s sometimes very challenging for prosecutors to win a conviction.”
In the world according to Dick Black, the fact that spousal rape is hard to prosecute is reason enough to keep it out of the court system altogether. (Perhaps the only thing more disturbing than this argument is that denizens of Virginia elected Black to serve as state senator two years ago.)
But Black certainly isn't the only Republican rape revisionist in public office. When asked about abortion during a 2012 debate for the Senate seat in Indiana, Tea Party darling Richard Mourdock said that “even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.” The same year, Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment cost him his bid in the Senate that year. Rep. Paul Ryan was criticized for using the phrase “forcible rape” in the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which he co-sponsored with Akin and 171 other Republicans.
The GOP is seeking to revamp its image in an effort to win back the youth vote they lost in the past two presidential elections. But that challenge may well remain insurmountable so long as candidates identifying as Republican insist on defending rape.