Minnesota Has Finally Repealed A Statute That Legalized Marital Rape

by Morgan Brinlee

When Jenny Teeson attempted to bring charges against her husband after finding videos of him drugging and raping her she discovered that, despite the evidence, he couldn't be convicted of rape or criminal sexual conduct due to certain state statues that allowed their marital status to protect him. The case caught Minnesota lawmakers' attention thanks largely to Teeson's willingness to share her experience, and Gov. Tim Walz has recently signed legislation repealing protections that effectively made marital rape legal in Minnesota.

"I want to thank everyone who has made this moment possible, from the advocates who fought for justice to the legislators who unanimously passed this bill," Walz said Thursday while signing legislation aimed at repealing a state statute that allowed rapists to use a pre-existing relationship as a legal defense in cases of criminal sexual assault. "But I especially want to recognize the grace, tenacity, and courage of Jenny Teeson, who took a horrendous experience and turned it into action to make Minnesota better."

According to Walz's office, Teeson was a tireless champion for the statute's repeal through the entire legislative process. "This exception should never have been part of our criminal statutes," Walz said. "It is reprehensible. And because of Jenny and other survivors, it is now repealed."

While marital rape is technically considered illegal in all 50 states, a number of states have — as Minnesota did — statutes in place that operated as legal loopholes or exemptions. In Minnesota, for example, a state statute stated that an individual could not be found to have committed criminal sexual conduct if they and their alleged victim "were adults cohabiting in an ongoing voluntary sexual relationship at the time of the alleged offense, or if the complainant is the actor's legal spouse, unless the couple is living apart and one of them has filed for legal separation or dissolution of the marriage," The Hill has reported. The statute effectively legalized marital rape under certain conditions.

According to NPR, roughly a dozen states have statutes that protect spouses from prosecution in cases of rape. In South Carolina, victims married to their alleged rapist must also prove threat of physical violence within 30 days of the alleged rape, the news outlet reported. In Ohio, where lawmakers are currently considering legislation to repeal a marital rape exemption, victims who are married to or living with their alleged rapist must also prove threat of force or violence, according to The Dayton Daily News.

On Thursday, Minnesota officials applauded Teeson for being willing to repeatedly share her experience with legislators in an effort to have the statute repealed and enable future victims to get justice. "I am humbled by the bravery and courage Jenny showed to share her story over and over in hopes of building a more just Minnesota," Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said at the signing ceremony. "We must fight for a justice system that supports all victims and survivors in meaningful ways, and this bill brings us closer to that vision."