Weighing in on marital sexual assault cases

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- A case filed this week in Eau Claire County accuses a husband of sexually assaulting his wife of 15 years. Court documents say the wife went to a religious official for help but didn't receive the support she was hoping for.

The Eau Claire man is charged with three counts of Second Degree Sexual Assault and one count of Fourth Degree Sexual Assault. According to the criminal complaint, the victim is his wife. The alleged assaults took place on several occasions and the wife says she did not consent. She then went to her pastor to report it and was told she needed to submit to her husband.

Amanda Schumacher, Sexual Assault Program Director at the Family Support Center in Eau Claire says sexual assault can happen within a relationship, no matter the length of time the couple is together. While sexual assault is a difficult situation for any victim, Schumacher says it's especially challenging when it happens within a committed relationship.

"Often times if someone is experiencing abuse in their relationship and they have been raised with these cultural ideas that it is a partner's responsibility to always be sexual or always be romantic in a relationship regardless of their desire it can be really hard to overcome those myths,” said Schumacher.

She says it can be especially difficult when religious beliefs come into play. One local pastor says in some religious communities, wives are expected to submit to their husbands. While others say religious beliefs are still no excuse for sexual assault.

"If someone is finding solace and comfort and support from their religious community, we want to make sure the religious community has the information they need to empower the individual as well," said Schumacher.

The Eau Claire Police Department says it partners with local advocacy groups like the Family Support Center to assist victims. "No means no regardless of your relationship with that individual, sexual assault regardless if you're married or dating is illegal and we're here to support you and take that report and also get victims’ advocates on board right away," said Officer Bridget Coit.

Officer Coit says domestic sexual assault cases can be difficult for law enforcement to investigate

“Intimate partner sexual assault is difficult on a number of levels, and one of those levels especially is the family dynamics that are occurring in that household and not just from an investigative stand point but from an emotional support stand point as well," said Coit.

While the wife in this case was not able to get the support she was looking for from the Eau Claire church she attends. Several local pastors said that sexual assault within any relationship is simply not okay.
Eau Claire Police however say religious figures are not required by law to report sexual abuse.