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Does my husband rape me or is it just in my head?

Marriage Advice
 "Young Afro Caribbean woman sitting on the edge of a bed with a mature man relaxing in the background, focus on girl."

"My husband raped me!" These have never been the exact words from her mouth whenever Regina shared with other stay-at-home mothers in the estate regarding how her husband handled her.

"What would they even think of me?" she asks, "That I can't satisfy him?"

Somehow, she suspected, such a confession would end up reverberating back to her. She would be declared the abnormal one.

Plus, the very idea of a husband raping his wife, sounded odd. No one would believe her story. Growing up, she was told that part of her job is to keep her husband happy. Yet, as she recalls, most of her bedroom encounters with her husband ended with a tinge of detestation towards the man.

However, there are occasions, she says, she enjoyed intimacy with her husband. "But they are few," she confesses, "because many times he is the one who wants sex and I don't."

She has never stood up to him and refused to yield. Being a house wife, she says, has suppressed her voice.

"My feeling is that my husband and I should both enjoy sex. But I feel like many times he is the one deriving pleasure while my job is to aide him."

In those moments, Regina says, she would stay still while he went about his business. It hurt, "because I would be dry and he would be forcing himself through."

In fact, she resorted to stocking enough lubricant in the bedroom so that whenever he demanded for his 'right' she quickly assumed the position and applied it for a "less painful experience."

'Is this how being raped feels?' she would ask herself as her husband fell over beside her, gasping with satisfaction, while her gaze remained trained on the ceiling.

Still, she couldn't reconcile the thought of rape and husband in the same sentence. It sounded like a stretched oxymoron. After all, he didn't beat her. And while he had a forceful way of asking for sex, he never tore into her clothes or pinned her on the floor.

Her husband, she says, has always turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to her 'I am not ready' hints.

"Sometimes I will do laundry in the night, waiting for him to slumber away, but he will come for me and ask me into the bedroom. When he wants it, he gets it!"

Amos Alumada Keya of Pan-African Christian (PAC) University in Nairobi is a marriage and family therapist. In his practice, which boasts more than a decade worth in counselling couples, he has come across many Reginas.

"Sex, at all times, should take place with mutual consent," Amos says. "Both husband and wife should be for it." He however recognises his proposition involves an ideal situation.

"In reality (if we go by proper definition of rape) you realise that quite a number of times rape does occur within marriage," he says.

Intercourse where one partner has either been coerced or forced, argues Amos, carries the hallmarks of rape. In Regina's case, Amos observes, there exists an element of inferiority. And thus her reluctance to forcefully refuse her husband's overtures.

"She probably feels that her husband is justified to demand for sex. She may fear, like it happens often, that the man will have a reason to stray outside their marriage," Amos says.

True to his assessment, Regina admits, that she wouldn't want to give her husband reason to venture beyond their union.

Beliefs about sex within marriage are diverse, Amos notes. Just as faith, culture and norms are diverse so is the belief in marital relations.

But of fundamental importance, according to Tom Lichuma, an author on marriage and parenting, is the attitudes spouse have towards each other. Tom is of the opinion that when rape happens within marriage it is a pointer to some amount of dysfunction.

"Rape should not exist in marriage: but so I hear it does," he says. "If I come across a case my first reaction would be to have a conversation with the couple and find out the circumstances within which it happened."

Tom is a Christian and succinctly quotes from the Bible, "the faith calls on spouses to avail themselves to each other; to give to each other freely."

Perhaps, he says, there is a disconnect between the husband who has to force his way into sex and the wife who does not feel the willingness to share in the intimacy.

"It could be that the man's thinking is still entrenched in the traditional belief that after paying bride price you gain exclusive and automatic rights to your wife's body," Tom says.

Tom recognises that women may go through emotional rollercoasters and as such may not always be in the mood for sex.

"If a husband, using force, has sex with his wife in similar circumstances then it would be rape. From that point on it would be best if the couple saw a marriage counsellor," Tom says.

However, a wife could as well seek legal recourse against a husband who rapes her.

The law, says Harriet Chiggai, an advocate, recognises rape as intercourse achieved through coercion, force or any form of violence.

Harriet says: "Even in a marriage setting a woman still has rights over what happens to her body."

 Figure 16.1 Percentage of ever-married women age 15-49 who have experienced specific types of spousal physical and sexual violence by the current or most recent husband/partner. KDHS 2014

According to Amos, when a wife – if for some reason feels an obligation – allows her husband to have sex with her when clearly she is not a willing participant, it may not amount to rape by law. However, it may leave her charred emotionally: feeling like an object.

Sexual violence towards a human being is punishable by law in Kenya. But with marriage in the equation, Sally admits, the path to litigation is never as straight as it looks on paper.

"These are two people who – it is assumed – loved each other and committed to each other as a witness to that love. If a wife sues her husband, would it mean that she wants a divorce as well? Where a court case leave their marriage?" Harriet opines.

For now, Regina says, she will look at it as a wife doing what it takes to make her husband happy.

"I only hope that I don't get tired," she says.

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