Ohio GOP remains unsure if spousal rape should be illegal

Under the current law in Ohio, husbands or wives can rape their spouses so long as there is no force or threat of force. The “spousal exemption” means husbands can drug and rape wives, and avoid a first-degree felony rape charge.

“As a former prosecutor,” said Greta Johnson, who now represents part of Akron in the Ohio House, “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.”

In her first term, Johnson introduced House Bill 234. It would have done away with this “spousal exemption” in Ohio’s criminal code. The bipartisan, bicameral Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee explored this and agreed.

But the 2015 bill died in a Republican-controlled committee, receiving no more than initial testimony from its Democrat sponsors, Johnson and Rep. Teresa Fedor of Toledo.

Johnson suspects the bill failed for partisan reasons. Obstructing legislation offered by minority parties is common practice in Ohio’s history of making laws.

But GOP members also pushed back on a provision of the bill that eliminated Ohio’s 20-year statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault cases. Johnson still thinks rape should be categorized with murder and aggravated murder as crimes that have no shelf life for prosecution.

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

But with more pragmatism in her second term, Johnson have compromised by dropping the provision on statute of limitations and instead crafted a cleaner bill that focuses on the marital rape exemptions.

Still, no Republican has sponsored the bill, which was introduced Friday by Johnson and Rep. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, and co-sponsored by 10 Democrats. Next week, the bill will get numbered and assigned again to a Republican-controlled committee, this time chaired by Rep. Nathan Manning, a former prosecutor in North Ridgeville.

Manning’s office said he was unavailable to comment on whether Johnson’s bill would have a chance. A staffer instead referred the Beacon Journal to House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, who sets the legislative agenda.

Meanwhile, Ohio remains one of 13 states that treat spouses different than most charged with sexual imposition, gross sexual imposition, sexual battery or complicity to commit any of the above.

More disturbing, Johnson said, is that Ohio is one of only eight states with a spousal exemption for rape. Most women, she said of her experience talking to victims, don’t even know they were raped until videos of the criminal act surface online. Their failure to recall the event is sometimes the result of being drugged, which would give exemption to matrimonial rapists.

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