Marital rape – the secret atrocity of Romanian domestic abuse

Elena Lomoră
It happens all the time - but women will not talk about it

Cluj-born mother and cancer survivor Eleonora suffered decades of physical abuse from her husband.

After visiting doctors and gaining evidence of abuse she eventually managed to get a divorce.

However her former husband refused to leave the house owned by Eleonora's parents.

This meant they stayed living together - and he insisted on sleeping in the same bed as her.

In the same way as before the divorce, he would force her to have sex with him.

His argument was that God does not accept a divorce.

Therefore she was still his wife in the eyes of God - so had to submit to his will.

“If I didn’t want to have sex,” says Eleonora, “he would make a scandal and wake up the whole house - my parents, my children, no matter the hour, so I had to give in.”

On a woman’s psychological and physical well being, rape can produce one of the greatest traumas - and victims rarely report the crime.

But when rape happens inside a marriage, acknowledging the abuse becomes harder for the victim.

In Romania there are no statistics on the number of wives raped by their husbands – leading experts to question whether any man has ever been convicted for marital rape.

This is a form of domestic violence, but experts argue that few women know that sex without consent with their husband is punishable by law.

One reason women do not report marital rape, as opposed to other forms of physical violence, is that the crime involves a deeper level of emotional and sexual abuse.

There is also the belief that through marriage, Romanian women make a vow of submission to their husbands in every respect.

This differs depending on the couples’ education or social background, but the country’s patriarchal culture transmits to a staggering majority of women the message that they must comply with the man.

When women ask for help to the police, to social workers or NGOs, because they have been physically abused, they have to fill in a form detailing the types of abuse they have experienced. Rarely is marital rape mentioned by the women at this stage.

Experts argue that this happens because rape is considered either a taboo subject or is seen as such a common occurrence in the marriage that women do not believe it constitutes a form of abuse.

During counseling with a therapist, it takes a few sessions and a bond to form between the victim and therapist, before the victim can even implicitly speak about marital rape.

It is also hard to find evidence for marital rape.

Many women consider the forced sexual act is a shame and only see a doctor or a specialist after they have washed and cleaned themselves. 

Women also submit in order not to suffer injuries. In the absence of lesions that might indicate violence or residue that could determine ejaculation, proving such a crime is near-impossible.

Due to the communist regime, Romania skipped over the period in west Europe, when activists and feminist organizations brought issues of abuse to the public attention.

Instead a top-down system worked, where the state emancipated women in the workplace, but at home women retained the same roles, often in submission to the husband.

Nevertheless at work, it was not a egalitarian utopia. There were many instances of sexual harassment which the bosses covered up. 

Since 1989, many Romanian women stated they did not need feminism, because they could succeed alone or because it was seen as something that took women out of their natural space - the family - and robbed them of their femininity.

Now, to deal with women’s issues all of Romania needs to understand and admit what they are - women’s issues.

Other members of the family suffer the effects of violence, but it is a woman who is abused every 30 seconds in Romania.

To allow women to speak up about the abuses, the country should stop whispering about both domestic abuse and sex, so that women feel empowered to speak up about victimization.

Unless people open up about these issues, domestic violence stays the dirty family secret and marital rape the secret within that secret.