Sexual violence leaves a scarMarital rape, or spousal rape, is not about mere sexual discord between a married couple. A victim is humiliated, and violent domination takes on the form of rape. In other words, marital rape includes rape after physical assault, forced sex, unwanted or sadistic sexual behavior and rape during separation. Realistically, it refers to “wife rape.” The Supreme Court decision has concluded the controversy whether the “victim” of criminal rape includes a “wife.”
According to the Supreme Court decision, the convicted husband is sentenced to imprisonment of three years and six months, information disclosure for seven years and a location tracking electronic device for 10 years. While women’s groups say the sentence is lighter than the basic punishment for special rape, some legal specialists are concerned that the decision may be misused in divorce suits. Especially with the revision of the special law on punishments for sexually violent crimes, which includes wives, in December, aggravated punishment can be applied to rape cases where a wife is the victim. The question is whether it is appropriate to punish offenders according to the punishment codes for marital rape rather than regular rape charges.
Sexual violence between spouses is subject to harsher punishment because it is likely to result in continued and repeated damage because of the relationship. Moreover, the physical and psychological damage on the victim is especially serious as the violence came from a spouse who should provide love and trust. The victims of “wife rape” suffer more continued long-term damage. According to the survey on domestic violence by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in 2010, 70.4 percent of the victims of domestic violence also have experienced sexual abuse. Some 19.7 percent of the victims are forced to have unwanted sex more than 20 times a year, and 14.7 percent are forced to engage in unwanted sexual activities more than 20 times a year. The survey shows that sexual abuse is not limited to a single occasion but is repeated constantly. It is fair if continued and repeated sexual violence is subject to more severe punishment than a one-time assault. A victim at the shelter of Korea Women’s Hotline says, “I felt like I was a trashcan” when she was raped after being beaten. The Korea Women’s Hotline dealt with a case where a victim of domestic violence killed her husband in 2005. The wife testified about her painful times. “My husband watched pornography and demanded I perform peculiar positions. When I refused, he used violence.”
The victims of spousal rape say that the brutal physical violence is hard to endure, but the forced sexual relationship after the violence was far more unbearable. It is especially painful because the assaulter is the one with whom the victim vowed to spend her life. Therefore, it is only just to apply harsher punishment for marital rape than any other rape charges.
As we have only begun to sound out the possible punishment, it is a groundless worry to discuss the harm of aggravated punishment. Instead, we need to seek more measures to guarantee the offenders are punished. Before these victims are wives, these women are “human beings” with the basic human right of not having their bodies violated. This human right is not transferable to anyone and should be prioritized above anything.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is the president of Korea Women’s Hotline.
By Jung Choun-sook