A bill before the Kansas house would remove the marital exemption from the sexual battery statute in Kansas. This common-sense bill is long overdue and should be passed with the full support of the Kansas Legislature.

Most Kansans would agree that when it comes to sexual contact, both people involved should agree to participate. Choosing a spouse does not mean freely agreeing to sex at any time. The marital exemption to rape was removed from Kansas law decades ago. However, a marital exemption in the sexual battery statute has lingered.

Sexual battery is defined under Kansas law as unwanted contact with an intimate body part for sexual arousal, gratification or abuse. Sexual battery is traumatic, abusive and should generate consequences for perpetrators, regardless of the relationship between the people involved.

Marriage is not a blanket agreement to sexual contact.

The marital exemption in the sexual battery statute is not merely an anachronism but is a barrier to prosecutors seeking tools to hold domestic abusers accountable.

Domestic violence cases can be incredibly difficult to prosecute, partially because much of the harmful behavior abusers inflict upon their victims does not cleanly match the legal definition of domestic battery. What victim’s advocates call coercive control — the collection of emotional, physical, financial and sexual abuse that traps victims in abusive relationships — is often difficult to find in Kansas statute.

Effective prosecutors looking for ways to protect the public frequently charge domestic abusers with harassment, theft, rape, arson, protection order violations and other crimes. Sexual battery could be another tool in the toolbox, should the spousal exemption be removed.

“The current law is especially harmful to individuals who are sexually battered as part of an abusive marriage,” said Michelle McCormick, program director of the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment in her testimony before the House Committee on Judiciary last week. “Acts of sexual violence are perpetrated routinely by those who physically abuse their partners, to gain and maintain domination and control in the relationship.”

Opposition to the bill has been limited to concerns that the statute could be misapplied to prosecute acts that are not traumatic or harmful, but states with similar legislation have not seen such consequences.

Removing the exemption would simply enshrine into law what most Kansans surely already believe: No one should be forced into sexual contact of any kind, whether the perpetrator is a stranger or the person you share a bed with.

 

GateHouse Kansas