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For many, marriage isn’t a refuge from sexual abuse

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Donald Trump's current bid for the 2016 Republican nomination has been a lightning rod for political controversy. It seems as if almost everything the notoriously frank billionaire says, whether at campaign speeches or through his Twitter account, generates endless headlines and commentary.

But the most recent Trump scandal doesn’t stem from anything Trump himself said. Instead, it’s his lawyer that’s caused a stir.

“By the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse,” Michael Cohen, special counsel at the Trump Organization, said earlier this week.

Cohen’s assertion didn’t come out of thin air. He was responding to an article in the Daily Beast which said Trump’s ex-wife, Ivana, had once gone on record saying she had felt sexually “violated” by her onetime husband during their marriage.

Though at the time, Ivana used the word "rape" to describe her uncomfortable encounters, the Daily Beast has noted that she has since clarified that she does not believe her ex-husband is guilty of actually raping her.

Despite Ivana’s clarification, the recent attention to Trump’s marital behavior, and more specifically, Cohen’s chosen words in defense of his boss, has drawn attention to the fact that marital rape is indeed possible.

Cohen has since apologized for claiming that rape in a marriage doesn't happen, but many continue to question how someone whose job it is to understand the law could be ignorant to the realities of sexual abuse within marriages.

“This incident uncovers an area of divorce and criminal law about which civilians and lawyers alike are still not clear,” CNN’s Danny Cevallos wrote on July 28. And one of the reasons they might not be clear, according to Cevallos, is because it wasn’t until recently that rape in marriage was actually recognized by the law in the United States, and even then, the law differs from state to state as to how marital rape is handled.

“Frighteningly,” Cevallos continued. “Cohen's statement was, in a way, too close for comfort.”

As the Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen reported last month (in an article unrelated to Donald Trump), despite the fact that marital rape is technically illegal in the U.S., there are eight states where non-consensual sex in marriage is handled differently than rape that occurs outside of marriage.

“Whether it is charged under a different section of criminal code, restricted to a shorter reporting period, held to a different standard of coercion and force, or given a different punishment,” Allen wrote, there are ways for states to essentially decriminalize this form of rape.

“Together, these double standards make marital rape — an already 'infrequently prosecuted' crime according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) — even more challenging to prosecute,” Allen wrote.

Just like all forms of rape, marital rape is coupled with painful emotions for the women or men who experience it.

As Marie Hartwell-Walker wrote for PsychCentral, many who experience marital rape feel confused. It’s an element of sexual abuse that receives very little attention, and in some ways appears counterintuitive, so victims often attempt to suppress the feeling that they’ve been violated, worried that they are making something out of nothing.

“Being married doesn’t change the social rules,” Harwell-Walker wrote. “Just because a woman said ‘I do’ to marriage doesn’t mean that she has said ‘I do’ to sex whenever, wherever, and however her husband wants it.”

“Married sex,” she continued, “like all intimate, loving sex, is consensual.”

JJ Feinauer is a writer for Deseret News National. Email: jfeinauer@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: jjfeinauer.