Arizona’s reputation as a progressive state rests in part on its encouraging cutting-edge technology, its development of clean, productive industry and its efforts to fashion a public education system that fully prepares students for the high-skills jobs of the 21st century.
But those accomplishments won’t take Arizona far as long as it still has a law on the books providing lighter penalties for sexually assaulting a spouse than for assaulting any other victim.
As reported by Capitol Media Services in Tuesday’s Tribune, Arizona is the only state with this sad distinction, according to a study prepared for the Governor’s Commission to Prevent Violence Against Women.
Arizona is one of only seven states that still defines spousal rape as a separate crime — which it is not. The level of physical, mental and emotional damage to a rape victim is the same when one spouse assaults another than if rapist and victim are strangers. In fact, the harm may even be greater, because the person causing that harm once publicly promised to love, honor and cherish the victim.
This inequity stems from what should be a distant past, when society wrongly inferred from the marriage bond that it entitled one spouse to sexual gratification on demand from another, regardless of that other’s wishes. If we’re fully embracing the 21st century in technology, business and education, we certainly should do likewise in protecting the rights and persons of all Arizonans, including spouses.
The Legislature should move quickly to ensure that the term “spousal rape” is eliminated from Arizona’s statute books and the penalty — currently it is a Class 6 felony eligible for reduction to a misdemeanor — be the same as for other sexual assaults.