St. Paul, MN – The governor of Minnesota signed a bill on Thursday that will repeal the marital rape exception that has prevented victims from prosecuting their spouses.
The legislation was championed by Jenny Teeson, a woman who found out her husband had been drugging and raping her only after they were separated, National Public Radio reported.
Teeson said she was going through computer files looking for documents during her 2016 divorce when she found four videos her husband had filmed of him raping her while she appeared to be unconscious.
In one of the videos, her young son could be seen on the pillow next to her, NPR reported.
“He was next to me and I have no idea because I was so out cold,” Teeson said, according to NPR. “This person, who I’m supposed to trust, would drug me and make me be so out cold that I couldn’t respond if something was wrong with my children.”
She reported the videos to law enforcement and prosecutors moved to press charges against her estranged husband.
But then it turned out that he couldn’t be convicted, WAMU reported.
At that time, Minnesota law prevented a suspect from being prosecuted if they were in a “voluntary sexual relationship” with their victim at the time of the alleged offense, or if the victim was the suspect’s legal spouse.
The only exception was for couples who were already legally separated and living apart, according to WAMU.
“We were all dumbfounded,” Teeson said. “The county attorney’s office didn’t know it, and the judge didn’t know that this law existed.”
The marital-rape exception can be found in British common law and was brought over when colonists came to America, according to NPR.
The first marital rape conviction in the United States came in 1979 after a Massachusetts bartender broke into the home he had previously shared with his estranged wife and raped her.
By 1993, marital rape was technically illegal in all 50 states, but “there’s these little loopholes and sub-statutes that hide deep in the books that pop out every once and awhile,” Teeson explained, according to NPR.
“We like to think of marital rape exceptions as an artifact of history, as a relic of a time when a woman was considered the property of her husband,” Minnesota State Representative Zack Stephenson explained.
But the marital rape exception still exists.
There are still a dozen states that require a married person to prove a threat of physical violence within 30 days of the rape, according to NPR.
Teeson said that after her husband got away with only a conviction for invasion of privacy and a sentence of 45 days, she wanted to change things.
“I was devastated and scared,” she told KMSP. “The next morning, I was ready to go to work to make sure no one in a similar situation hears, ‘I’m sorry, the charges have been dropped.’”
Her first attempt to pass the legislation was vetoed in the previous session when it got caught up in a bigger budget bill.
But this time Teeson said she vowed to make herself a regular presence at the Capitol until she met with success.
She watched state representatives vote on the measure with her parents from the gallery.
Afterwards, the entire state house chamber turned in their seats to face Teeson and gave the survivor-turned-advocate a round of applause.
“I don’t think I’ve seen my dad cry, ever. And my mom and my dad and I looked at the board and within two seconds, three seconds, the whole board lit up green,” she said. “It just solidified that what I’m doing is right and that one person’s voice can really make a difference.”
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed Teeson’s bill on May 2, NPR reported.