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Effort to eliminate spousal rape moves to Ohio Senate

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(The Center Square) – The Ohio Senate gets another chance to outlaw spousal rape in the state 40 years after legislation was first introduced.

The bill, which passed the House 74-1, would remove the spousal rape exception in state law, an effort that has been ongoing in the General Assembly since 1985.

Ohio is one of 11 states – others are Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia – that has some spousal rape loophole or exception. Mississippi eliminated its exception earlier this year.

“Sexual assault is never acceptable,” said Rep. Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park. “We should have a criminal justice system that focuses on helping survivors seek justice rather than a system that retains unacceptable and archaic barriers. I am thrilled to say that HB161 has passed the House; this is a historic day. We are one step closer to making Ohio a safer place to live for all survivors of sexual abuse crimes.”

Currently, spousal rape survivors cannot press charges because of their marital status if there is no threat of force or physical violence. House Bill 161 would allow a person to testify against their spouse in a prosecution of spousal rape, sexual battery, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, gross sexual imposition and sexual imposition.

Different versions of the bill were introduced in the last two General Assembly sessions, but neither passed committee to reach a full House floor vote.

“As legislators, it is our responsibility to protect all Ohioans, and this bill is a critical step in the right direction,” said Rep. Brett Hillyer, R-Uhrichsville. “A human does not lose the right to dignity and protection under the law simply by saying I do at the altar. I will continue to spearhead efforts that directly foster an environment that is marked by safer and healthier communities and families.”

Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia, who was the only person to vote against the bill, said he doesn’t believe a husband can rape his wife.

“I personally don’t believe that a man, if he’s married and has physical relations with his wife, that can be considered rape,” Dean told the USA Today Network after the vote. “I also know that if they’re living apart or they’re divorced and stuff, sure, that’d be rape.”

The bill has yet to be assigned to a Senate committee. Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, introduced similar legislation in 2019 and 2021. Neither passed.

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