Rape in relationships is a very real thing, and we need to call it what it is
On Thursday afternoon, Bobette Riales came forward on Twitter and accused actor Danny Masterson of raping her “repeatedly,” while she was in a relationship with him. Railes is the fifth woman to accuse Masterson of sexual assault, and the second to allege that it occurred while they were dating. The allegations are a terrifying reminder that rape in relationships is a real thing, and that can make it even harder to come forward to talk about.
Masterson denies all of the allegations, but in late November his publicist, Jenni Weinman, was heard on a recorded phone call saying that he couldn’t have raped another one his accusers, Chrissie Carnell Bixler, because they were in a relationship at the time.
Although the Los Angeles Police Department is still investigating the allegations against Masterson, it’s important to remember that “marital rape” is still very much rape, very much illegal, and is by no means a defense.
Weinman told HuffPost in a statement about her remarks, “I respect the law. I would never cover up wrongdoing or threaten people based on the scope of my work. As a publicist it’s my job to gather information and make informed decisions about media matters. As an outsider looking in I never saw anything but a consensual relationship between Danny and Chrissie, with whom I maintained a cordial relationship after they broke up.”
HelloGiggles’ request for comment from Weinman about the new allegations and her previous statements was not immediately returned. However, in a previous statement, Masterson said this about the allegations of rape in the early 2000s and his firing from Netflix though his representative, according to Bustle:
"From day one, I have denied the outrageous allegations against me. Law enforcement investigated these claims more than 15 years ago and determined them to be without merit. I have never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one. In this country, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, in the current climate, it seems as if you are presumed guilty the moment you are accused."
Making this situation even more complicated is that Netflix didn’t just fire Masterson in the wake of the allegations against him — they also fired an executive who made remarks about not “believing” the four women who had come forward against him. Much like Weinman, the timing and the fact that the women had been allegedly in a relationship with Masterson once upon a time, likely had something to do with convincing him. On social media, there are many disheartening comments that make it sound like a woman can’t be raped by someone she knows, let alone is in a relationship with, which is peak victim blaming. false
On Thusday, Riales echoed one of the original accusers’ story, tweeting, “Danny Masterson repeatedly raped me. All I seek is justice and to prevent this from ever happening to anyone else as it has for some time. My truth will be heard. I applaud [Bixler’s] strength as well.” According to a report in the Daily Beast, the investigation into Masterson has been “stalled,” despite “compelling” evidence. Last March, journalist Tony Ortega first reported on the allegations, writing that “at least three alleged cases of rape or sodomy of women who were also Scientologists and who claim they were pressured by the Church of Scientology not to contact police or go public with their accusations.” false
Bixler is no longer a member of the Church of Scientology, but alleges that the Church told her that Masterson couldn’t have assaulted her because they were in a relationship when she went to them at the time. According to her allegations, Masterson raped her twice during their six year relationship. According to HuffPost:
"One morning in 2001, she says, she woke up in pain with her anus bleeding. When she asked Masterson what had happened the night before, she says, he told her 'We had anal sex.' According to Bixler, when she confronted Masterson about his callousness and said she hadn’t been able to consent, he allegedly replied, 'Stop it, you’re making me feel bad.'"
Sadly, there are still 13 states that make exceptions for spousal rape. Given that the first state to criminalize rape in a marriage was North Carolina in 1993, that shouldn’t be too surprising. Rape within marriage was not commonly viewed as a crime because in most religions, marriage means that a woman becomes a man’s property. So unconscious or not, sex is fair game in some people’s minds. Many religious people still feel this way. The Duggar matriarch, for example, notoriously said on her family’s TLC show that the key to a happy marriage is having sex even when one doesn’t “feel like it.”
But that’s not true! Non-consenting sex between partners is still rape. Everyone should always be able to consent to sex, no matter what their relationship to the other person. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, being forced to have sex, have children, or even made to feel like one has to submit to a partner sexually is abuse. Bottom line.
Just like it’s dangerous to assume that rape can’t happen in a marriage, it’s also dangerous to assume that it doesn’t happen in relationships that don’t have some legal title. Calling it “marital rape” or “spousal rape” denies women such as Bixler and Riales their alleged experience. It makes it easier to assume they’re lying, if only because we don’t have the right language for it, much like we don’t protect women with simple ways to talk about emotional and physical abuse in relationships.
Many domestic violence laws also don’t protect a woman if she’s just “dating” her attacker.
Women already are hesitant to report sexual harassment and assault because they fear people won’t believe them, whether it’s because they had a glass of wine or were on a date with their assailant until they decided they didn’t want to have sex. Women in emotionally and/or physically abusive relationships don’t leave for so many reasons, one being that they’re in a relationship with this person and part of the abuse is being gaslighted into believing that the violence, any type of it, is somehow their fault, will get better, or is just “normal.”
In a relationship, being yelled at isn’t normal. Being hit isn’t normal. And waking up to your partner penetrating you or manipulating you into having sex with them is not normal. It’s fine to want to wait until an investigation is completed to make your mind up about an alleged rapist. But don’t dismiss the accusers just because they were in a relationship with the person or assume that the investigators aren’t, too. When we talk about outing all the pigs, we have to include them all, even the husbands and the boyfriends.
If you need to talk to someone about sexual or physical abuse in your or someone you know’s relationship, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat with them live here.