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Domestic violence advocates celebrate new bills that criminalize marital rape and 'stealthing'

One expert said roughly 33% of rapes occur between spouses or partners.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Thursday was a big win for the domestic violence awareness community in California.

Before Thursday, married couples were not included in the definition of rape. It was an entirely different category and one that was not nearly as serious. 

"Our survivors, who often are immigrants and have been raised with strong cultural histories and values where they believe that they have to often submit to sex, just because they are married," Nilda Valmores, executive director of My Sister’s House said. “So educating them about this new law, including the men in the communities, will let everyone know that forced sex, even in a marriage, is just that; forced sex.”

Dr. Navneet Kaur specializes in couples and trauma therapy at Love Heal Grow in Sacramento.

She said studies show about 33% of rapes that are reported are actually committed by a spouse or a partner.

She called the new law — which criminalizes removing a condom without consent as a civil battery, a victory for more than just domestic violence survivors.

"Also for the sexual assault community," she said. "I know a lot of the excuses is what I will call it, is that it doesn't feel as good. And so some people will either try to convince the victim at first to not wear one or just like you were saying, remove it without the victim knowing that it's been removed. And the victim didn't consent to that, therefore it is battery."

Because it’s civil, not criminal, the victim can sue the person who commits the crime for damages and relief.

Tasha Deleon Lee is a director at Saint John's Program for Real Change. The program serves hundreds of survivors a day.

"That is another example of how sexual abuse and sexual violence happens, in that absence of consent," she said. "Domestic violence definitely thrives in secrecy and not talking about it."

All three women agreed that the horrific case of Gabby Petito is bringing the discussions of domestic violence to the dinner table, helping people understand that domestic violence is not always obvious. 

They said there’s more work in education to be done, but they are celebrating Thursday's victory. 

If you are experiencing domestic violence or abuse call 211.

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