When men sexually abuse their wives, they are rarely held accountable by therapists, clergy, and family – let alone the law.
Sexual abuse is a serious crime and victims suffer devastating trauma as a result of their abuser’s choices. But women can heal and find peace again with support, safety, and self-care.
Sandy, an incredibly courageous member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community shares her story of intense and traumatizing sexual betrayal and rape, and how she came to identify it as abuse. Read the full transcript below and tune in to the free BTR podcast for more.
How Do Men Sexually Abuse Their Wives?
Marital sexual abuse follows a wide spectrum and includes both covert and overt abusive behaviors, including physical battering. Men sexually abuse their wives by:
- Coercing/forcing/manipulating partners into sexual behaviors that they are not comfortable with or have previously said no to
- Voyeurism of any kind, on any level
- Coercing/forcing/manipulating partners into viewing pornographic material
- Physically harming a partner’s sexual body parts
- Sharing/posting photos (explicit or otherwise) of partners on any platform
- Physically forcing partners into sexual contact
- Coercing/manipulating/threatening partners into sexual contact
- Commencing sexual contact without consent
- Commencing sexual contact without disclosing their entire sexual history to partner
When Men Sexually Abuse Their Wives: The Consequences Women Face
As Sandy explains,
I don’t even know how to describe [the pain of marital sexual abuse]. It was like horror. [It] can knock the wind out of you and just make your spirit and soul just torn apart.Sandy, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
Women who are sexually abused by their partners experience a wide range of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual trauma, including:
- Pelvic and sexual pain
- Nightmares/sleep disturbance/sleep disorders
- Panic attacks
- Faith crisis regarding religious beliefs
- Paranoia, social anxiety
- Fear of men
- Loss of sense of self (dissociation)
- Feelings of inadequacy/unworthiness
Can Victims of Marital Sexual Abuse Heal?
When men sexually abuse their wives, they are setting them up for an uphill battle that will likely take a significant amount of time. Women can heal, but it takes support, self-care, and most importantly, safety.
To begin healing from marital sexual abuse, women can:
- Become educated about abuse and trauma
- Participate in the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group
- Seek one-on-one coaching to process and begin healing from the abuse
- Establish daily self-care routines
- Courageously set boundaries that separate themselves from abusive behavior
- Press charges against their abuser by reporting the abuse
I want women to know that that sense of, I can’t report this or I shouldn’t report this for some reason, is usually the abuse talking. It’s not justice speaking, (generally speaking). Most women, once they get past the trauma and they are feeling better, really regret not reporting back in the day.Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Sexual Abuse
At BTR, we understand the horror, grief, and fear that come with marital sexual abuse. We mourn with victims who have suffered so deeply at the hands of their husband or partner.
Our BTR.ORG Group Sessions meet daily in multiple time zones to offer victims a safe space to process trauma, ask questions, and connect with other victims who get it.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
We have a member from our community on today’s episode, we’re going to call her Sandy, but before we get to her let’s talk about the BTR.ORG Group Sessions. When you join you get unlimited support every month from all of our amazing coaches. We created BTR.ORG Group Sessions for women just like you.
Now we’re actually just going to dive right into her story, and she’s going to start with a little bit of backstory for our listeners so they kind of have a context for her situation. Welcome, Sandy.
Can Husbands Sexually Abuse Their Wives?
Sandy: So, it’s hard to even know where to start because I feel like the timeline is so complicated. I was raped by my husband and then about a week after that happened, I found out that there were pictures of me on pornography sites. So, they were two completely separate incidents because the pictures happened about 8 years before, I just didn’t know about them until a friend of mine told me, I don’t think you know this but he puts pictures of you on porn sites.
Anne: Wow. You were raped and then a week later a friend says, you might not be aware, but there are some pictures of you on a porn site, and these pictures were taken 8 years before?
Sharing Explicit Photos of Women Is Abuse
Sandy: When I heard that, I don’t even know how to describe it. It was like horror. The sentence can knock the wind out of you and just make your spirit and soul just torn apart. That’s the only way I can describe it. So, I went home, and I asked my husband, is this true? Are there pictures of me on porn sites? He said yes.
I look back now, and I think about that moment as essentially the end of everything. We were married 13 years at that point, but we were together for 15. You know, this person that I had loved for 15 years, it was like he didn’t exist anymore. It was like I didn’t know who this person was who would do this to me. At that point, I hadn’t identified what he had done to me as rape.
Non-Consensual Sex Is Rape
Anne: I was going to ask that. So, can you describe what you thought happened at the time?
Sandy: I knew it was not good. I knew it was not loving. I was very confused about why it was happening and what was going on. We had just had this terrible fight and the next thing I knew he had followed me up to the bedroom. I had my bathing suit on, and I was taking it off and the next thing I know we were having sex and I just thought I didn’t know why. I thought if I would ask him to stop, he would yell at me more. I talked about this with some friends and they said, well, that’s rape. I said, well, he didn’t push me down, he didn’t hurt me. They said, yeah, but he didn’t have your consent and I said, well, no. I didn’t realize that at that point there are actual degrees of rape.
Understanding the Degrees of Rape Can Help Victims
If you go to the rape hotline or online support, they have 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 3rd and 4th that are different degrees of rape. So, it was like 3rd or 4th-degree rape. It was actually friends and leadership from my church at the time who told me, no, this is rape. Call this hotline and they’ll point you in the right direction. You need to get help and you need to get therapy. They kept pushing me to get help because they were very much like, you’ll heal faster if you process this right away.
Anne: I just want to pause here for a minute. That’s not very common that your church people told you that it was rape. That is amazing. I actually haven’t heard a story like that in a really long time.
Clergy, Faith-Communities, and Friends Can Help Victims of Marital Sexual Abuse
Sandy: Yeah, I mean I definitely feel like the Holy Spirit was watching out for me. Putting people in my life to really push me in the right direction.
Anne: That’s not a very common thing for clergy to help a rape victim identify the rape, especially when it’s her own spouse. That’s very rare.
Sandy: Right. When it’s your own spouse and he didn’t punch me, he didn’t push me down. So, they were really the ones who urged me to go to therapy and to go to therapy by myself for sexual trauma. It wasn’t one of these, oh you guys need to get into couple’s counseling. The church and all the friends I had were like, you need to heal from this before you can ever work on a relationship again, and the same thing for him. They were like, he obviously has major issues and he needs to figure out what those are and get help for them before he can be in a relationship with you.
Healing From Marital Rape Can Be Difficult
So, I felt like that all started me out on the right track even though it was the harder track in some ways because I was very much just wanting things to get back to normal. I just wanted my life back. Not to say that I had this perfect relationship or something like that. We definitely had issues.
Anne: Are you saying that at the time you didn’t really understand the extent of the issues?
Sandy: Yes, that’s a better way to put it.
Anne: Okay, so at the time you’re thinking, well, I know we have issues but do I really have to go through all of this stuff? That kind of a feeling?
Men Sexually Abuse Their Wives By Stalking & Recording Them Without Consent
Sandy: Yeah. I knew it was bigger than that. I mean once I found out about the pictures especially, I was like, okay there is more going on here than I ever realized. Which is weird too. I think I was in denial for many years because at one point I found a hidden camera in our bedroom, and I was like, what is this about? He was like, well, when I would take the kids to school you were getting undressed and I never get to see you undress anymore and I miss taking pictures of you. He was always essentially stalking me. When I would take a shower, when I would get undressed, he always had a camera and he was always wanting to take pictures. I was always like, oh my gosh, this is so annoying just let me take a shower, but then I thought well he’s my husband, he likes to see me naked, that’s good right? It all was warning signs.
Sexually Abusive Men Usually Commit to Stop, But Keep Doing It More Covertly
Anyway, I found the hidden camera and I was really angry about it, and he was like, okay I won’t do it again. I just thought, oh, okay he won’t do it again. I mean that was years before I knew about the pictures online or anything like that.
Anne: When you found out about the pictures what becomes clear to you at this point? I mean, have you been going to therapy at all before the rape, before these things, or have you been thinking, there’s something not quite right with my relationship? Something is kind of weird going on or were you thinking, oh, I have a great relationship? Can you talk about your thoughts before the rape and then also before you found out about him posting porn?
Even When Men Sexually Abuse Their Wives, Life Can Seem Pretty Normal
Sandy: It’s hard to explain because I wouldn’t say like there was anything that seemed super wrong. Our relationship beforehand seemed fairly normal to me. I wanted him to pay attention to me more. I felt like, I’m the mother of three kids and I was a stay at home mom and I was always just wanting him to come home and spend some time with me, but he had an excuse to go do something else. He decided he wanted to start with this new business. I was like, why? Don’t start this business, please. I never get to see you. I need you to be at home. I need you to be a part of this family.
Abusive Men Dismiss Their Partner’s Feelings & Desires
He was like, well, if you don’t want to be a part of it you don’t have to but I’m going to do it anyway. I was, of course, upset about that, but to me it was nothing to get divorced over. We probably should have gone to therapy, but I just thought, well, he’s going to do what he wants to do, and I’ll stay out of it if I don’t like it.
Anne: Well ironically, had you gone to therapy at that time with you not knowing you were being abused, couple therapy wouldn’t have helped you a whole lot, but you didn’t know what you didn’t know.
Men Abuse Their Wives By Ignoring Familial & Emotional Needs
Sandy: Right. Yeah, I had no idea. We both felt busy. I had my own business, he was starting a business, we had kids. I just remember thinking, I can’t wait until we can spend more time together. Looking back at everything, it’s a weird combination: I was begging for his attention but yet he was also obsessed with me. I mean he was obsessed with me in a sexual way. It was almost like I couldn’t have his attention any other way.
Anne: Because he was taking pictures of you all the time and he’s doing these things that make you feel uncomfortable but at the same time at least it’s something.
Men Sexually Abuse Their Wives by Overtly or Covertly Threatening Infidelity
Sandy: Right, and there was one point where I even thought, well, I wonder if he’s seeing somebody else because he never comes straight home after work. I would call his work and I’d say, hey, has he left yet, and they would say, yeah, he left 2 hours ago. They didn’t know what that was about. I thought, well, I’ll just put out anytime he wants because that way he won’t have a reason to go sleep with somebody else. Looking back I’m like, that was so stupid.
Anne: We’ve all been there, Sandy. We have all been there, so no, it was not stupid. It makes total sense.
When Men Sexually Abuse Their Wives, They Are Also Psychologically & Emotionally Abusive
Sandy: Yeah, you don’t know what else to do. Our kids were so young, and I wanted to be married. Looking back, I can tell I was in a complete state of denial really about everything that was going on because if I had sort of looked a little harder or a little deeper, I would have found something.
Anne: I wouldn’t call it denial per se because denial sort of puts the fault on you. I would say that you were seeking safety, and at the time the safest thing to you felt like having a good attitude or giving sex more or whatever because the alternative seemed terrifying. So, I wouldn’t call it denial but that you were really seeking safety and the alternative was too scary. The reason why I don’t want to call it denial is because they purposefully confuse and manipulate and lie, and so it’s not like you’re in denial about something that you know. You’re just confused about something that they are trying to purposely obfuscate from your knowledge. It only confirms that you were a victim of psychological and emotional abuse.
Victims of Sexual Abuse Often Blame Themselves For The Abuse
So, it sounds like you tried to think, oh, I’ll have sex with him whenever he wants, I’ll try to be a better mom, I’ll try to be better, and those things didn’t work and then you find out about the pictures. So, where do you go after that? What happens after you find out he produces porn of me and he’s posting this online without my consent?
Sandy: Right. Obviously, as I said before, I just felt torn apart. I did not know which way was up. I didn’t know what to do. So, I started therapy and the therapist was like, have people around you that help you to feel safe. Have people that you can talk to at any point. Friends, family, whoever that is. Maybe it’s just one or two people and do everything you can to get back into doing things that you enjoy, that you find healing. In the meantime, I was trying to figure out, okay, but how do I live with this person because at the time I didn’t know that I wanted to get divorced or anything. I was just trying to figure out which way was up.
When Men Sexually Abuse Their Wives, Victims Can Hold Them Accountable
Anne: Did anybody at the time indicate to you that you could press charges?
Sandy: Yeah, because I was still speaking with a person on the rape hotline pretty regularly. So, I mentioned to this person on the hotline about the pictures and they were very much like, you may need to get the police involved to get those pictures taken down. They said, but be aware that if you go to the police, they may in fact press charges even if you don’t want them to. So, in some ways, I was told like, be careful what you do because essentially if he gets put on the sex offender list, he would lose his job. It was like I could not make a decision in the state of shock and trauma in regard to that. So, I told him, we need to get these pictures taken down. He said, okay, I’ll hire a private company. So, we did not go to the police right away, or I didn’t. He told me the pictures were taken down by this private company that he hired.
Anne: One of the questions that I have is looking back now is do you think it would have been better to press charges?
Victims of Sexual Abuse Can Press Charges
Sandy: I do now. I can sort of explain what happened because now I’m much better. I mean, obviously not completely healed from the trauma but I’m in a place where I can talk about it a little easier. I actually did go to the police because I kept having these panic attacks that the pictures weren’t down, and I thought, I don’t know, because he just continues to do things that make me nervous even though we’re not married and we’re not living together or anything. I mean we share custody of the kids, but trauma comes back, and sometimes I just sort of freak out.
When Law Enforcement Lets Victims of Sexual Abuse Down
So, I thought, okay, I’m just going to go to the police. I had the list from the company that he hired that had all of the links, which was 6 pages worth of links to my images. Anyways, I take this to the police, and they say, okay, we’ll look into it. Mind you, two years have passed since the company took them down, and I did find out that yes, they are officially down. The company took them down. So, that was good news and he was telling the truth on that one, but they didn’t seem to think I could press charges. They didn’t really seem to care that this had been done. I was sort of told, well, there’s nothing we can do. It was 2 years ago; it was too long ago. I thought that just seemed weird. How can something be such a crime? I mean, he could have gone to jail. He could have been put on the sex offender list. So many things could have happened 2 years ago if I would have reported it, but now that’s been 2 years they’re like, well, I don’t really see anything happening if we report this.
Victims of Sexual Abuse May Regret Not Reporting The Abuse
Anne: That is super disappointing. One of the things I’m trying to help women understand is that when you don’t report something immediately when it happens, there are good reasons to report and good reasons not to report, and so we’re never judgmental around here about women reporting or not reporting. But I want women to know that that sense of, I can’t report this or I shouldn’t report this for some reason is usually the abuse talking. It’s not justice speaking, generally speaking. Most women, once they get past the trauma and they are feeling better, they really regret not reporting back in the day.
Is It The Abuser’s Voice Telling You Not To Report The Sexual Abuse?
If any victim is listening right now and they’re thinking, yeah, my husband did do a crime and I haven’t reported it, should I? If your gut or what you really feel like is, I can’t report, I would submit that the most likely thing happening currently for you is that it’s the abuse telling you not to report. Perhaps you’re so used to this abusive voice in your head and also the societal scripting or perhaps religious scripting like he might lose his job or what about him?
Victims Can Press Charges Without Shame Or Justification
I had a discussion with a friend the other day, and she was like, well, we really need to do these things and hold them accountable out of compassion for them so that they can change, and that’s true. But I also said, you know, it’s interesting as a victim of abuse you don’t really have to justify your actions through, “it’s the most compassionate thing I can do for him so he can change”. You could also do it just out of sheer anger. You don’t have to be like, well I need to do it from a place of love. No, you can actually hold them accountable and call the police from a place of anger or from a place of trauma, or from a place of anything that you want. It’s fine. It’s okay, and I think society has said to victims, well, you can’t be an angry bitter woman so if you’re going to do it you have to do it from some place of forgiveness or some place of compassion or some place of whatever. It’s just something for people to think about, that as a victim you don’t owe your perpetrator anything.
Victims Can Let The Justice System Decide The Legal Consequences For The Abuser
Sandy: Right, and I had to get to that place. I completely agree now. I realized that I did not do anything wrong. For me to report what he did. That’s how I look at it now. Whereas before, yeah, it was very much like you said; I can’t do this to him. It would destroy him. It would be so bad. It would be bad for his job. I mean I was thinking about our kids too. They love their dad. It would be terrible if he was in jail and he couldn’t spend time with them, but also, I did not do these things. I should not have to make that choice of whether or not he goes to jail. I was the victim, and I felt like that weight was on me to decide what his fate was.
Marital Sexual Abuse Is a Serious Crime
Anne: Right, and just leave that up to the justice system. Imagine you saw a car get stolen. You might be shaken up; you might pick up the phone and you might be kind of shaking because you saw this car get hijacked; let’s just pretend. Someone might not say to you, oh, let’s stop shaking before you call the police. Let’s make sure that you’re doing it from a place of really loving and having compassion for the guy who stole the car. Nobody says that.
At the time though, you’re considering, I don’t know if I want to get divorced or not. So, talk about when you decided that you needed to just end the relationship and get divorced.
Therapy Doesn’t Change Abusive Men
Sandy: Well, I feel like I spent about a year convincing him that what he did was obviously not right. He knew what he did wasn’t right, but he didn’t understand why he needed to go to therapy. He basically was like, I’m sorry I won’t do it again. I was like, no, you need to get help. So, he went through a couple of therapists and he had one that he was with for a while, and I asked to sit in on conversations to talk about some of my concerns, and I realized with this therapist he did not tell her like half of what was going on. I said, what about this and this? I said, don’t you see that there is a pattern like with the pictures and him following me around with a camera, and the hidden camera in the bedroom, and then the pictures online. There is a pattern here. There is something wrong with him.
At this point, I was just starting to learn about sex addiction, porn addiction, and that kind of stuff and I hadn’t put all of the pieces together. The therapist was like, oh, you didn’t tell me about that. I just thought, oh my gosh. At that point, he moved out.
Anne: I’m going to cut Sandy off right here and we’re going to continue this conversation next week.
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