Brooklyn Journal of International Law


More than half of the world’s countries do not explicitly criminalize sexual assault in marriage. While sexual assault in general is criminalized in these countries, sexual assault perpetrated by a spouse is entirely legal. The human rights violations inhere in acts of violence against women are now well recognized. Yet somehow marital rape is a particular form of gendered violence that has escaped both criminal law sanctions and human rights approbation in a great number of the world’s nations.

This silence in the law creates legal impunity for men who sexually assault or rape the women who are their wives or intimate partners, thereby legitimizing this particular form of violence against women. This is a human rights problem that cries out for redress, both legally and socially.

An examination of international law and human rights norms demonstrates that state failures to criminalize sexual assault in marriage breach the due diligence standard and fail to comply with international human rights norms. The fact that there remain significant gaps in laws around the world ensuring legal impunity for men who sexually violate their intimate partners, indicates the scale of the human rights law work still to be done in this area.