Donald Trump

Quote of the Day: Donald Trump’s lawyer claims “you cannot rape your spouse”

We interrupt our general policy of ignoring Donald Trump’s presidential campaign for a quick reminder that spousal rape is illegal. 

Yesterday, The Daily Beast reported on old allegations, which are included in a 1993 biography of Trump, by his now ex-wife, Ivana, that he once violently raped her. Contacted for comment for the article, Michael Cohen, special counsel at The Trump Organization, offered this:

“You’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”

“It is true,” Cohen added. “You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.”

Cohen is flat-out wrong. Marital rape has been illegal in all 50 states since 1993. But as Samantha Allen reported at the Beast last month, in several states, the law treats spousal rape differently than rape outside of marriage — “whether it is charged under a different section of criminal code, restricted to a shorter reporting period, held to a different standard of coercion and force, or given a different punishment.” These legal double-standards make spousal rape even harder to prosecute than other sexual assaults in many places.

Furthermore, as Allen notes and Cohen’s comment illustrates so well, “misconceptions about the legitimacy of marital rape on a cultural level are alive and well in the U.S.” Which is pretty incredible when you really think about the assumptions — about consent, about marriage — underlying the idea that, “by the very definition,” spousal rape is impossible — and just how antiquated they are. Like, we’re talking hundreds of years antiquated. They’re derived from 17th-century British common law “in which a woman’s unconditional sexual consent was considered to be part of the marriage contract.”

It’s scary that we’ve only relatively recently — and not even completely — removed that idea from our legal code. But it’s even scarier that we haven’t fully abandoned it culturally — in our hearts and minds and relationships.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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