by Josey Allen
This April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it is an important time to talk about the many ways sexual assault can appear in romantic relationships. It is important to note that just because you are in a relationship with someone, it does not mean you have given consent for any sexual activity. You can still be assaulted by someone you are in a relationship with, and in fact, sexual assault and domestic violence are closely linked. Often times, abusers use sexual assault as a way to intimidate and control their victims. In fact, victims who are sexually assaulted in their relationships are more likely to be seriously injured or killed than those who do not. Victims who are pregnant or in the process of trying to leave their abuser are especially at risk of sexual assault by their intimate partner.
For several decades, marital rape was not considered a crime. It was believed that a married person was always entitled to sex with their partner, and it was common for Americans to think of a romantic relationship as consent in itself. In fact, it wasn’t until 1975 that the U.S. did away with the “marital exemption,” which prevented attorneys from conviciting cases of marital rape. The force of any sexual act by one’s partner can be incredibly traumatizing emotionally and sexually. It can have long lasting damage on any future emotional and sexual relationships for that person. Even when in a sexual or romantic relationship with a person, it is imperative to get consent and to listen to their signals and requests. In some cases, a spouse may use drugs or alcohol to obtain sex from a partner with out their consent. This is also sexual assault and a crime.
Another form of sexual abuse that is often used in relationships as a form of control and coercion is reproductive abuse. Planned Parenthood defines reproductive abuse or control as pressuring a partner to get pregnant or messing with their birth control. There are several ways this may appear in a relationship. One way an abuser might incite this form of abuse is by tampering with their partner’s birth control, or by removing a condom without their consent. This is also known as “stealthing”, and it is an attempt to get someone pregnant without consent. Other forms of pregnancy control may include forcing someone to get an abortion, or scaring someone out of an abortion with threats, physical abuse, etc.. It is never okay for a partner to have control over your body and how you choose to live. The choice to have children or not is deeply personal and should never be held over your head or used in a threatening manner.
Youth who experience sexual abuse in a relationship are at high risk of domestic sex trafficking. Oftentimes, traffickers prey on younger people and develop sexual or romantic relationships with them in order to manipulate them and gain control and then eventually traffick the victim. Traffickers use their victims as a form of profit, which makes this form of abuse especially dangerous, because they don’t ever see them as human.
If you are being sexually abused in a relationship, this is often a warning sign that things will get much worse. The physical abuse may turn incredibly dangerous and oftentimes deadly. It is very important to reach out for help if you are suffering from rape or sexual assault in your relationship. There are many places you can reach out to for help. Domestic violence agencies like Day One have counseling programs and legal services to help you get to safety.