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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Get it Straight: It’s Rape and not “Sleep Sex”

The Star, one of Canada and Toronto’s largest online news sources recently published the following question in their Ellie’s Advice column:

Q: My husband said that while I was fast asleep one night he had intercourse with me. He thinks it’s acceptable since I’m his wife. I feel it’s almost the same as rape. It’s my right to go to sleep and know nothing will happen to me. I should be able to feel safe.
To do that without a person’s consent while they are unaware surely can’t be right. What do you think?
Curious
A: If having “sleep sex” with your husband feels so unsafe, you have bigger marital problems going on. This is what you should be dealing with, more than this one incident.


Disclaimer:
I am assuming this question was written by a woman as the majority of other questions are submitted by women.  It is possible that it is a man, as same-sex marriage was nationally recognized in Canada in 2005. 

Let’s be clear: this incident is not “sleep sex” as the columnist suggests but is in fact rape.  It is rape based on how the woman is feeling about the violation and according to the Canadian Criminal Code.  Curious explicitly said that she did not give her husband permission to have sex with her while she was asleep.  She explicitly states that since she has found that out she feels unsafe and that it isn’t right to do while she is unaware.  Based on this information, the columnist should be focused on providing Curious with information on how to address this trauma such as a hotline number to a local rape crisis center or suggestions like counseling.  Since 1983, marital rape has been outlawed in Canada.  Based on this fact, the columnist can also recommend making a police report.  Instead, the columnist decides to downplay Curious’s feelings and her husband’s crime.  First she refers to it as “sleep sex”.  Secondly she states that Curious must be having bigger marital problems if this is upsetting her.  I also think that Curious may be having other marital problems—I am wondering if her husband abuses her in any other way.  I don’t think that this is what Ellie was referring to though.

I think it is deplorable that despite how clear Curious and the Canadian Criminal Code are, this columnist is still so wrong, rude, and careless in her response.  The fact that Curious’s husband does not believe he needs her expressed consent because they are married is extremely troubling.  It took much longer for the category of marital rape to be recognized as a crime and to make it into the criminal code, both in Canada and countries around the world.  Traditional beliefs did not recognize rape within marriage because it was thought that the woman’s body was literally owned by the man and therefore it was not feasible to commit an act of rape against one’s wife. Marriage vows were considered to be a blanket of consent for all sex within the marriage.  It is still one of the most contested aspects of the definition of rape and criminal code and spouses who are raped have a difficult time in having their charges taken seriously.  Despite these traditional values and patriarchal history, the man does not own the woman and he is not entitled to sex whenever he pleases.  The element of consent is required no matter the relationship status between the two people.

This answer is also troubling for the implications it can have past the influence it has on Curious.  As The Star is a widely read news source throughout Toronto and Canada, this opinion can also be read by scores of other people.  These people may have similar experiences to Curious and rather than believe it is a crime they may believe Ellie’s reference, “sleep-sex”.  This terminology could lead people to believe that they are overreacting to their experiences rather than acknowledging what is happening.  There are so many barriers to reporting a rape or sexual assault, especially against someone who you love and trust like a spouse.  Downplaying acts of rape in a popular news source can be detrimental to those who want to report because it could cast doubt in their mind as to whether they’d be believed and supported. 

Written by: Stacey

Posted by stacey on 12/28 at 03:25 PM

Comments

A big fat raspberry to that columnist. I remember what it was like to feel unsafe in my own bed. Never again. EVER. I hope the questioner finds safety, support and healing.
Posted by lisa  on  12/28  at  04:04 PM
Update: http://www.thestar.com/living/article/1108071--ellie-what-i-should-have-written-to-a-woman-about-sleep-sex-and-rape?bn=1

I think she could've definately been a lot more straight forward about how wrong she was in her initial post. But it's a start.
Posted by addie  on  12/29  at  04:35 PM

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