Republican state legislators in Ohio are still reluctant to make spousal rape illegal

Republican state legislators in Ohio are still reluctant to make spousal rape illegal
Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

In Ohio, a draconian legal exception allowing for certain forms of marital rape remains on the books. The current law says that, so long as there's no force or threat of force involved, sexually assaulting your spouse doesn't technically count as rape.

Democratic state Rep. Greta Johnson is trying to change that — with little help from her Republican colleagues.

On Friday, Johnson refiled a version of House Bill 234 — legislation she first introduced in 2015 that would lift the current exceptions to the state's definition of rape. At the time, the bill died in committee, lacking bipartisan support. And according to Akron Beacon Journal, this time is no different.

On Feb. 27, Ohio House Democrats tweeted that no Republican legislators have stepped up to co-sponsor the bill.  

Johnson, who worked as an assistant prosecutor in Summit County, emphasized how pressing it is to fill the legislative gap that allows some marital sexual abuse to go unpunished.

"As a former prosecutor," she told the Journal, "I would argue that you could still try to prosecute under the forced rape statute, but unfortunately drugging and raping your spouse in Ohio is not illegal."

Ohio is just one of eight states that still allows for spousal exceptions in the case of rape.

Just as before, it will prove difficult for Johnson to push the bill through to a vote without the support of her GOP colleagues.

One reason Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives contested the legislation in 2015, according to the Journal, was because of a clause that would have eliminated the 20-year statute of limitations on sexual assault and rape cases; Johnson reportedly believes that rape should be adjudicated similarly to murder, a crime that has no statute of limitations.

Nonetheless, in hopes of giving the bill a better shot, Johnson has removed the stipulation and focused on the central problem of marital rape.

Brad Miller, spokesperson for House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, told the Journal there's a chance the bill could still receive support from across the aisle, citing another bill addressing dating violence that's earned a GOP sponsor.

Johnson told the Journal that, as a prosecutor, she's had a firsthand look at how damaging sexual assault is for victims — which is why she feels so strongly about this cause.

"I've always called rape murder of the soul. It changes people in fundamental ways. Nobody will ever be the same," she said. "The only thing [my clients] wanted was something I could never offer, which is the day before [the rape] happened."