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Marital and Domestic Partner Rape

Rape is a type of sexual assault that occurs when an individual forces a victim to engage in some form of sexual intercourse against the victim's will or without his or her consent. Washington State used to treat rape committed by strangers or acquaintances in a different manner from how it treated rape committed by one spouse against another. However, the state's position on rape has changed over time, and now applies the same definition of rape to spousal situations as situations between strangers.

Historical View of Rape in Marriage

Up until the 1980s, Washington State laws regarding rape had a marital exception – that is, the fact that two individuals were married was an absolute defense against allegations of rape or sexual assault by one partner against the other. In 1983, Washington removed the marital exception for rape in the first and second degrees, and then in 2013, removed it from the crime of rape in the third degree. Thus, as of 2013, the fact that two people were married was no longer a valid defense if one spouse accused the other of rape.

Domestic Partnerships

Washington State also is home to state registered domestic partnerships. When they were first legalized in 2007 – state registered domestic partnerships were a legal relationship available to all same-sex couples, as well as to opposite-sex couple where at least one of the partners was at least 62 years old. It gave the couple similar rights, protections, and benefits, as married spouses received under the law. Washington State expanded the rights and responsibilities of domestic partners in 2008, and again in 2009, until domestic partners were provided “everything but marriage.”

Then, in November 2012, voters approved Referendum 74, which legalized same-sex marriage in Washington State. In addition to allowing same-sex couples to marry and changing state statutes to apply the law surrounding marriage without regard to the specific genders of the two individuals in the partnership, the same-sex marriage law also modified the domestic partnership laws to automatically convert any domestic partnerships where both partners were under 62 years old into marriages. RCW 26.60.100(3)(a) provides that any state registered domestic partnership in which the parties were the same sex, and neither party was 62 years of age or older, would be automatically merged into a marriage on June 30, 2014.

Currently, only couples in which one or both of the partners are at least 62 years old can enter into a state registered domestic partnership. Since some social security and pension laws make it financially impractical for older couples to marry, the state left the domestic partnership law in place and available to certain same-sex and opposite-sex couples, so long as one member of a couple is over the age of 62.

Sexual Offenses

The list of sexual offenses criminalized by Washington State can be found in Chapter 9A.44 of the Revised Code of Washington. RCW 9A.44.904 explains that any reference to the terms “spouse, marriage, marital, husband, wife, widow, widower, next of kind, and family” in that chapter applies equally to people state registered domestic partnerships as it does to married people. Thus, the laws surrounding rape and other sexual assaults apply equally to committed couples, whether they are married or in a state registered domestic partnership.


There are three degrees of the crime of rape criminalized in Washington State. Each is a serious felony charge that carries with it the potential for large fines and long prison sentences. Each deals with situations where one person engages in “sexual intercourse” with another person against his or her will. RCW 9A.44.010(1) defines “sexual intercourse” as any sexual penetration, however slight, as well as any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person done for the purpose of gratifying the sexual desire of either person or a third party.

  • Rape in the first degree:
  • Rape in the second degree:
  • Rape in the third degree:

A person is guilty of rape in the first degree if they engage in sexual intercourse with another person by “forcible compulsion.” Using “forcible compulsion” includes the following activities:

  • Using or threatening to use a deadly weapon;
  • Kidnapping the victim;
  • Inflicting serious physical injury, including knocking the victim unconscious; or
  • Breaking into the house or car where the victim is located.

Rape in the first degree is a class A felony and is punishable by life in prison, a $50,000 fine, or both. See RCW 9A.20.021.

A person is guilty of rape in the second degree if they engage in sexual intercourse with another person by forcible compulsion that does not rise to the level of rape in the first degree, or in situations where the victim is incapable of consent because they are physically helpless or mentally incapacitated. Rape in the second degree also applies when the victim is a person with a developmental disability and the perpetrator is a person who is not married to the victim, yet has supervisory authority over the victim or was providing transportation to the victim as part of his or her job at the time of the offense.

Rape in the second degree is also a class A felony and is punishable by life in prison, a $50,000 fine, or both. See RCW 9A.20.021.

A person is guilty of rape in the third degree if they engage in sexual intercourse with another person where the victim did not consent to sexual intercourse, and clearly expressed that lack of consent, or where the perpetrator threatened to harm the victim's property.

Note that prosecutors will only charge rape in the third degree if the rape was not serious enough to rise to the level of rape in the first or second degree. If the sexual assault meets the requirements of the higher charges of rape in the first or second degree, prosecutors will usually pursue those more serious charges. Rape in the third degree is a class C felony and is punishable by five years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both. See RCW 9A.20.021.

“Let My Extensive Experience as a Former Prosecutor Work For You.”

Rape is a serious crime, which carries equally serious felony consequences in the form of potential jail time and fines. If you or a loved one has been arrested for, or charged with, extortion in King County, Snohomish County, Skagit County, Whatcom County, or Kittitas County, contact experienced criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi today for help. Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor who is committed to using his experience and knowledge of prosecution strategies to work for you in your case. He represents people facing all sorts of felony charges and is dedicated to protecting your constitutional rights. Don't wait to call, contact the Law Office of Steve Karimi today at 206-660-6200 to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation.

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If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

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Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.