Sexual Abuse Marriage Exemption Finally Removed from West Virginia Law

CHARLESTON, W.Va – Today, March 22, 2024, Governor Jim Justice signs SB190, the bill removing the marriage exemption from West Virginia’s sexual abuse laws.  

This exemption was a relic left over in our code. The marriage exemption for sexual assault laws had been removed from code way back in 1976 by Ohio County Delegate Judith Herndon, but the exemption for sexual abuse was overlooked for many years.

The difference between sexual assault and sexual abuse is that sexual assault requires penetration by forcible compulsion, and sexual abuse requires sexual contact by forcible compulsion.

WV Capitol building

“This is carrying on what I believe to be an unfinished job that [Herndon] was not able to get done before she unfortunately died in 1980,” said Senator Ryan Weld, R-Brooke.

Before this improvement in code, there would be no grounds to charge a spouse with sexual abuse—even if they admitted to law enforcement it had occurred. It was an absolute defense to be married to the person you sexually abused, because that defense was codified in WV law.

Domestic violence services organizations, along with sexual assault services organizations, began pushing, unsuccessfully, to remove this exemption four years ago. Recently, the organizations prepared a new education and awareness campaign to regroup for another push. And this year, the bill finally passed.

“It’s been a long road, but with legislators championing the bill—and great advocacy, education, and awareness campaigns–we finally got it over the finish line,” explained Joyce Yedlosky, one of two Team Coordinators for the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WVCADV).

Now victims can seek justice, even when their abuser is their spouse. Additionally, abusers will now receive the message that they can be held legally accountable for sexually abusive behaviors against their spouses.

“The state’s sexual assault coalition, the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services [FRIS], joins in recognizing the legislature and Governor for removing the marriage exemption for sexual abuse.  As we collectively work to attract and keep residents in our state, we must be mindful that we need to create an environment where people not only want to work but also want to live.  Eliminating archaic and discriminatory laws and ensuring equal protections for all West Virginians contribute to making West Virginia a safe and wonderful place for all,” said Nancy Hoffman, State Coordinator of WVFRIS.

The change will go into effect on June 6.

Local domestic violence service providers across the state celebrate the win. Click on the county in the map to find local programs.

Barbour Berkeley Boone Braxton Brooke Cabell Calhoun Clay Doddridge Fayette Gilmer Grant Greenbrier Hampshire Hancock Hardy Harrison Jackson Jefferson Kanawha Lewis Lincoln Logan Marion Marshall Mason McDowell Mercer Mineral Mingo Monongalia Monroe Morgan Nicholas Ohio Pendleton Pleasants Pocahontas Preston Putnam Raleigh Randolph Ritchie Roane Summers Taylor Tucker Tyler Upshur Wayne Webster Wetzel Wirt Wood Wyoming

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Shadowy figures lurk at night among trees: stalking.
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