Minnesota Senate Closes Marital Rape Loophole

In April 2019, the Minnesota Senate took a unanimous vote to close a loophole in the state law that made it impossible to file rape charges against one spouse within a marital relationship. Prior to the new vote, a spouse could not press charges against another spouse for alleged rape if the couple was married. Even if the spouse did file a claim, the criminal courts would dismiss the charges – as was the case for one woman, Jenny Teeson, whose testimony helped sway the Senate’s decision.

What Was the Marital Rape Loophole?

The marital rape loophole, or exception, stems back hundreds of years, to British common law. American colonies imported these laws, which stated that part of the marriage contract is a woman giving unconditional consent to sexual activities. It was not until 1979 that states in the U.S. began to pass laws to close this loophole, when a man in Massachusetts broke into the home of his estranged wife and raped her. This case resulted in the first conviction despite the marital rape exception.

Since 1979, most states have passed laws to close the marital rape loophole, thanks in part to campaigns from many women’s rights groups. By 1993, all states had made marital rape technically illegal. Unfortunately, enforcement of the marital rape law varied greatly from state to state. Small loopholes in the law still exist in many state statutes. Minnesota was included on this list, barring prosecutors from pressing sexual assault charges against someone within a marital relationship, until the Senate’s ruling in April 2019.

The law before the latest vote protected a person from prosecution if the couple was in a voluntary sexual relationship at the time of the offense, or if the alleged victim was the perpetrator’s legal spouse. It only permitted prosecution if the couple lived apart and had filed for separation. This trapped many women into having no legal recourse after experiencing rape or sexual assault within the marital relationship. Now, the Senate has repealed the exception to close the loophole in Minnesota’s law.

Jenny Teeson’s Story

Advocating for the Senate to close Minnesota’s marital rape loophole was a resident named Jenny Teeson. During Teeson’s divorce case, she found files on her husband’s computer showing videos he’d filmed drugging and raping her – some of which included her young son beside his mother on the bed. Teeson and her attorneys tried to charge her ex-husband with sexual assault, but the loophole in the law prohibited this type of prosecution since they had been married at the time of the offense.

The loophole meant that prosecutors could only charge Teeson’s ex-husband with invasion of privacy – a crime that came with a 45-day jail sentence. Her ex-husband served just 30 days of his sentence and was then free to go. Teeson believes he should have served a longer sentence, as well as gotten his name on the sex offender’s registry in Minnesota. Teeson spoke up about her experience at the Capitol to make sure the latest bill to repeal the exception passed, since last year the Senate vetoed the bill. Teeson testified in committees and met with lawmakers.

Minnesota has the last divided Legislature in the country. Yet the Senate unanimously passed the bill that would repeal the marital rape exception – a rare moment of bipartisanship. During the House vote, Teeson attended with her parents. When they announced that the bill had passed, the chamber turned to applaud Teeson, who burst into tears. Thanks to Teeson and other survivors who came forward, spouses in Minnesota now have the right to press sexual assault charges against their wives or husbands. The marital rape loophole in Minnesota is no more.

Contact Knutson + Casey

If you’ve been the victim of rape or another sex crime in Minnesota, contact our attorneys today to schedule a free consultation. You aren’t left without options. We can help.