In 1978, it was still legal to rape your wife
I've been having a conversation on Facebook with a gloomy friend who looks at drone assassinations and indefinite detention and Republican sabotage of the economy and believes America is at a low point. That our country is locked into a downward spiral of doom that will lead surely to collapse.
I've been responding and saying that America has never been an innocent nation. We've done horrible things to each other and our neighbors since we were colonies. We've massacred natives, started wars with everyone around us, poisoned our own people, enslaved people, freed slaves only to strip them of nearly all rights for 100 years, given rural communities irradiated food just to see how they die, injected healthy men with syphilis and told them it was vitamins, forced rape victims to deliver children and then stole their kids away before they could touch them. And on and on and on.
This list could go on for days and pages and years.
But here's the thing: we've stopped doing most of this and in terms of civil rights and women's rights, we've come a very long way.
Case in point:
In 1978 in Salem, Oregon, a married woman who had been a victim of domestic abuse accused her husband of rape. The rape and the accompanying violence inflicted upon her by her spouse was not a new thing for the woman; the ability to have the state intercede on her behalf was. Prior to 1978 Oregon rape laws mirrored those of the rest of the country, in that cohabitation was a legal defense against rape. (In most states this defense was extended to husbands who were estranged or legally separated from their wives.)
The story sparked a national controversy. The concept that a woman should be allowed to refuse her husband’s sexual advances, violent or otherwise, divided the country’s progressives and conservatives along wholly predictable lines. That the victim had been beaten, bloodied, and dragged about her house by the hair was not in dispute. Nonetheless, most of the national press stories focused on the defense’s arguments that she was sexually dysfunctional, frigid, and might well have once had a lesbian encounter. According to the defense attorneys (who did not deny that the defendant had forced himself upon her), criminalizing such violence was a “wholesale feminist view [of rape]” which would only be pursued by “a manipulative woman seeking either revenge or fame.”
Within three hours of closing arguments, the jury acquitted the husband. The couple was divorced soon after the trial. Once divorced, the defendent would break into his ex-wife’s house to continue the harassment; he was eventually jailed for these later transgressions.
By then the genie was out of the bottle, however. Not surprisingly, the idea that women might have some say about the legal use of their bodies turned out to be extremely popular with women.
. . .