Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990, Section 5

The removal of the marital rape exemption sent an important signal about women’s sexual autonomy. However, while the landmark was important symbolically, there is still a sense that marital rape is a ‘crime apart’ from other forms of rape. Thus, although this landmark was symbolically significant, in practice there is more work to be done to ensure that it is as momentous in practice as it is in principle.

Susan Leahy

Until 1990 in Ireland, a husband could not be prosecuted for the rape of his wife as a result of what was known as the ‘marital rape exemption’. Abolishing a husband’s immunity from conviction for rape of his wife was a significant turning point in reform of sexual offences law. Section 5 of the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990 formally erased a husband’s immunity from prosecution for marital rape. This reform marked a break with the idea of rape as a property crime (and husband as sexual proprietor of his wife), as well as sending a message that consent may be absent even where individuals have had sex numerous times before. However, whilst the reform constituted a very significant advance symbolically, its practical effects in terms of convictions and appropriate punishment of marital rape have been less pronounced.

The full version of this landmark is written by Susan Leahy.


Learn More

Kitty Holland, ‘Marital Rape Remains Extremely Difficult to Prosecute’ (The Irish Times DAC, 26 July 2016)