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Speaking with Survivors of Domestic Violence: “Have You Experienced Any Kind Of Sexual Assault?”

Stephanie for blog

A guest post by Stephanie, our Legal Services Advocate at Tri-Valley Haven

Stephanie is our Legal Services Advocate at Tri-Valley Haven. Twice a week, she runs our drop-in Restraining Order Clinic. Below Stephanie shares her experience with asking survivors of domestic violence if they’ve ever experienced sexual assault.


“Have you experienced any kind of sexual assault?”

It is one of many standard questions that we ask during the intake process at our Domestic Violence Restraining Order Clinic. I never know what the answer will be. Some women answer very clearly “no.” A few will answer clearly “yes.” Others may hesitate a bit before denying that sexual assault has anything to do with the domestic abuse that brought them into the clinic seeking protection. And yet as I talk to them and find out more about their story, it sometimes becomes clear that they have indeed been sexually assaulted at the hands of their intimate partner or spouse.

Rene* came in our clinic to seek a restraining order from her abusive husband. They had been married for many years but she was tired of the abuse and ready to end the marriage. Though she had initially answered “no” when I asked her if she had experienced sexual assault, it became clear as she told her story that indeed sexual assault had been a regular occurrence.

Marital or intimate partner rape is any unwanted intercourse or penetration obtained by force, threat of force, or when the spouse/partner is unable to consent. Rene, like many people, did not associate sexual assault with marriage, which is no surprise since historically sexual assault in marriage was not considered a crime. But today marital rape is a crime in all 50 states.

Still it can be hard for survivors in intimate relationships with an abuser to recognize when they have been victims of sexual assault. Rene is a perfect example.

Rene’s husband would often make sexual advances that she felt powerless to refuse because she knew that if she did, he would become violent as he had done many times in the past.  Thus she had sex with her husband even though she did not want to because she faced the threat of violent physical abuse if she didn’t. This kind of choice is no choice at all. Rene’s husband raped her, plain and simple.

Other examples of intimate partner rape include (but are not limited to):

  • Forcing sex with a spouse or partner who is asleep, intoxicated, drugged or unconscious
  • Sex when the spouse or partner feels or has been threatened with violence or harm if they refuse
  • Forcing sex by emotional manipulation, such as verbal abuse, threatening divorce, to harm or take the children, or to “get it from some else”
  • Any time the spouse or partner feels they have no other choice but to submit to sex. The absence of choice is quite simply the absence of consent.

Some may think that this type of sexual violence is not “as bad” as being raped by a stranger. But in fact, the trauma can be worse for victims because the abuse is likely to happen repeatedly. Many times survivors of domestic violence feel trapped in the relationship and face pressure from their community to persevere. Further aggravating the trauma that survivors feel is the profound sense of betrayal from someone they should be able to trust with their safety and well-being. Children from the relationship are also adversely affected by witnessing the abuse and its impact on their parent.

If you or someone you know is experiencing this kind of intimate partner violence, there is help available! Call our hotline at 1-800-884-8119 for crisis counseling, information and referrals. For more information about our bi-weekly Restraining Order Clinic, call (925) 449-5847 x 206.

*Names have been changed.

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