Don’t think marital rape exists? Ask the woman who found videos of her husband raping her while she slept

Daily Telegraph, Thursday 3 August 2017

It is hard to imagine a greater betrayal: a young woman picked up her husband’s phone, spotted an app she didn’t recognise and opened it. Imagine her shock when she discovered videos that showed him raping her while she was asleep. This week, at Newcastle crown court, that husband was jailed for nine years.

Such a long sentence was clearly justified. The wife, who came across the footage by chance when her husband forgot to take his phone to work, has to live with both the shock of what was done to her and a catastrophic loss of trust.

The couple can’t be named for legal reasons but they had been married for more than 10 years, and had children together, when he started making the videos in September last year.

Twenty-six years ago, when the law in this country was changed to make rape in marriage a criminal offence, no one envisaged the arrival of mobile phones with a video facility. But the law lords who voted to change the law understood that what happens in some marriages is a great deal darker than outsiders realise. They rightly took the view that a legal ruling dating back to 1736, which said that a man could not rape his wife, was ‘anachronistic and offensive’.

The change in the law was greeted, in some quarters, by derision and howls of outrage. But yesterday’s case, and others that have come before the courts in the intervening period, are a stark reminder of why the change was necessary. We know far more about domestic violence now than we did in the 1990s, including the fact that it often involves rape and other forms of sexual assault.

Some local authorities have set up ‘sanctuary’ schemes – basically a safe room where a woman can hide with her children until the police arrive – to protect separated wives from rape and assault by their husbands. But the striking thing about this latest case is that the victim didn’t even know she was being abused until she found the images in her husband’s phone in March this year.

Curious about an app called Video Locker, she found a way to open it and discovered the videos; her husband had zoomed in to film himself raping her and performing other sex acts while she was asleep. In a state of shock, she contacted him and said ‘I’ve just watched videos of you raping me on your phone’. She then went to the police, who told her that her husband had already handed himself in.

The recordings, which lasted between 30 seconds and two minutes, have been destroyed. But one of the most frightening features of the case is that once they existed, the husband could have shared them with other people if he felt so inclined. There is no evidence that he did so, but he was caught only six months after he started filming the rapes.

The victim told the court that her life, and that of her children, had been ‘completely turned upside down’ by her discovery of the videos. ‘I never thought he would be capable of doing what he did,’ she said. ‘He has completely fooled me. I never want to see him again’.

This series of events may seem outlandish to some people. But it is important to recognise that the husband made no attempt to deny his behaviour, pleading guilty to a catalogue of offences: three counts of rape, one of assault by penetration, one of attempted rape and one of sexual assault. The judge said he had taken advantage of the fact that his wife was a heavy sleeper, treating her as an object for his sexual fantasies.

Earlier this year, some viewers were shocked by a wedding-day rape in an episode of the TV soap Emmerdale. Last year, the long-running Radio 4 series, The Archers, addressed the issue of marital rape when Helen Titchener stabbed her abusive husband, Rob; she revealed the rapes during her trial and was cleared of attempted murder.

A subject that was once taboo is now being discussed in popular culture, helping real-life victims to come forward. This is a very good thing: it is undeniable that rape in marriage exists, and does tremendous damage.

Yesterday’s horrific court case demonstrates that it can happen, in the most extreme instance, in a marriage where the wife has no suspicions. Rape by a current or former partner is far from uncommon and wives, like every other woman in this country, deserve the full protection of the law.

 

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