Sleeping With the Enemy
I remember being kept in our bedroom, as my ex-husband stood in front of the door, blocking my exit. We would have “talks” which could last for an hour at a time. I put quotations marks around talks because the talking was all one-sided; him lecturing me. My children would often stand at the other side of the door asking for me. He would tell me that I needed to show that I really wanted to make this marriage work. How would I show that I wanted to make the marriage work? Giving him sex and giving it to him willingly. He was not just content with getting sex; I had to pretend that I wanted it as well. If I didn’t consent, then there would be threats of divorce and threats of gaining custody of our son. At the end of these arguments, we “made up” by having sex. Often afterwards I would silently cry, feeling so empty.
I felt like a prostitute. I was having sex in order to keep a roof over the heads of me and my children. It was intolerable and humiliating. I would alternatively tell myself that I loved him and could make it work or tell myself that I could no longer endure this marriage. There was no physical violence. There didn’t have to be. I took his threats very seriously. Each night I would lay in anxiousness until I could hear that he was asleep. It is hard to relax and let yourself sleep when your worst enemy is sleeping right next to you.
Taweekiet Meenakanit, a Thai law professor and writer, who infamously has rejected laws in Thailand against rape in general, and more recently, rape within marriage in Thailand, does make one noteworthy point. He points out that a dependent wife may hesitate to file charges against her husband for several reasons. This has been the dilemma of women worldwide when trying to protect themselves, whether it is protection from rape or domestic violence. What will be the consequences?
Behaviors, which in an ordinary situation would be seen as a human rights abuse, are accepted worldwide when done to women within the framework of marriage. For example, A survey done by UNICEF showed that the percentage of women aged 15–49 who think that a husband is justified in beating or hitting his wife under certain circumstances is as high as 90% in some countries.
Bertrand Russell in 1929 wrote Marriage and Morals in which he wrote about the deplorable situation of married women: "Marriage is for woman the commonest mode of livelihood, and the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater in marriage than in prostitution."
The majority of society has come to at least verbally speak out against rape: sex against a person’s consent. We give lip service to the right to have control over our sexuality, but how far does this right extend? Until recently, marriage was understood to be an institution in which the husband is rightfully in control of the wife and this included the area of sex. It was assumed that part of marriage covenant was the husband’s entitlement to sexual access to his property: his wife.
We are seeing some hopeful changes, as of 2006, 104 countries have some form of law against spousal rape. But I still come back to Meenakanit’s questioning of whether women will use these laws to protect themselves. Within domestic violence situations, a woman can obtain an order of protection, but within marriage, I think she will consider this very carefully. It is a protection of last resort, done out of desperation, because there is no going back after filing an order of protection or having a husband arrested for abuse.
I remember the day it all ended. I had been at the hospital all day waiting for my mother to get out of surgery. When I came home that evening, he pulled me aside and told me that he had been to two lawyers that day and had been told that he could gain custody of our son. He told me that he could turn my son against me in three days’ time. After much badgering and feeling exhausted after a day worrying at the hospital and feeling threatened by this announcement, I called the police. The call was broadcast on the scanner and soon the whole community would know that the police were called on a domestic dispute; ours.
What is consent? After some experience, a wife knows that it is better for her to accept sexual advances than have them done by force. Is she consenting? Is a woman consenting to sex when she is economically dependent upon her husband? Part of the definition of rape includes the concept that it is sex done under threat or manipulation. There are other threats than just physical violence. A woman may be threatened with divorce and losing custody of her children.
A question I still haven’t figured out is why men want sex without consent. If for example, someone gave me a present every week, but I knew it was done out of fear or duress, I would not want that present. I would feel ashamed that I had this control over another human being and that they were afraid of me. How can we change the mentality that accepts this imbalance of power? I understand why women cower under this situation, but why do men find this situation acceptable even desirable?
In 2007 I left my husband and ultimately did lose custody of my son; and that is another story. My ex-husband saw my son as a bargaining tool to keep me in an abusive marriage. The grief and shame over losing him is for another article.