Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Marital rapes trouble courts

Cases aren't taken seriously, advocates say

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - A 32-year-old Mason man is allowed to go to work each day as part of the six-month jail sentence for beating his wife with a belt and raping her last May within earshot of their young son. He was enraged because his wife wanted a divorce and wouldn't have sex with him.

A 40-year-old Lebanon man with a previous assault conviction was sent to prison this summer for two years for tying his wife down with a belt in June, then raping her three times when she refused to sleep with him because he was drunk.

Meanwhile, a 46-year-old man from Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic, was ordered held Tuesday until he could be deported and was barred from the United States for five years as punishment for holding his estranged wife hostage at a Mason park in August, dragging her into the woods and raping her.

As the recent unusual rash of marital rape cases wrapped up in Warren County Common Pleas Court with plea bargains and lenient sentences, domestic violence experts said their outcomes underscore a need for the justice system to take the crime more seriously.

The prosecutor, who agreed to reduce the most serious charges in each case from rape to attempted rape, acknowledged that sentences probably would have been stronger had the women not been married to their attackers.

The men also were convicted of abduction or kidnapping. All faced up to 13 years in prison or more.

"It's been difficult to get prosecutors and judges and law enforcement systems to take marital rape seriously," said Juley Fulcher, Washington-based public policy director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence who cited the problem as a national one.

"Within domestic violence, sexual violence receives far less attention than it should. It's an integral part of what these women are facing."

Judge P. Daniel Fedders, who sentenced all of the men, said he does not discuss his cases.

While marital rape cases are not unprecedented in Warren County, having three incidents so close together is highly unusual, authorities said.

County Prosecutor Tim Oliver said deals were made because the cases were filled with complications.

"Neither one of those women wanted to testify and neither one of those women wanted their husband to go to jail, let alone prison," he said of the first two cases.

Kristine Lizdas, staff attorney for the Battered Women's Justice Project in Minneapolis, said marital rape cases are particularly difficult to prosecute because authorities must prove that the sex is not consensual. And that can be a tough sale to a jury, Ms. Fulcher added.

Research sponsored by the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and conducted by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the mid-1990s suggested that marital rape accounts for 25 percent of all rapes, and that one-third to one-half of battered women are raped by their partners at least once.

The rape of a spouse was not considered a crime in all 50 states until 1993. However, 33 states, including Ohio and Kentucky, still grant some exemptions to husbands who rape their wives. In Ohio, prosecutors must prove there was force.

The same study estimated that only 7.5 percent of the cases of wife rape were criminally prosecuted.

Sometimes that's because a woman doesn't view the attack as a criminal offense, said Theresa Singleton, director of protection from abuse for the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati.

"It's typically not prosecuted, and frequently it's not viewed as a crime because sometimes women don't see it as a crime," she said. "We see women who have been forced to have sex, whose breasts are bruised and torn. There's still such a stigma attached to it. Women are embarrassed and ashamed, and it's difficult to talk about."

Mr. Oliver said he took several factors, including the victims' wishes, into account in allowing pleas in the Warren County cases.

The woman who was beaten with a belt didn't want her husband incarcerated because she had a child and his support to consider.

Another woman, whose arms were covered with blue and purple bruises from being restrained, told Judge Fedders that she forgave her husband of 17 years and regretted reporting the incident. She wanted to back out of the prosecution.

"We want our marriage to work. If I had known this is where we'd be today, I would never have called police. I would have done things differently. I did not agree to any of those charges," she said at her husband's sentencing in October.

The woman in the August incident wanted to be spared from testifying, Mr. Oliver said.

Even so, he said he objected to the deportation of her husband because he didn't think the punishment was adequate.

"I have problems with that sentence and have expressed my concern. But the judge made up his mind what he is going to do," Mr. Oliver said.

In court on Tuesday, Judge Fedders said he considered it a matter of public safety to get the man out of the country as soon as possible. The man's wife did not attend the hearing.

The Enquirer isn't identifying the defendants to protect their wives' identities.


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