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In the US, the wife's legal subordination to her husband was fully ended by the case of Kirchberg v. For this reason, in many cultures there was a conflation between the crimes of rape and adultery, since both were seen and understood as a violation of the rights of the husband.

Rape as a crime was constructed as a property crime against a father or husband not as a crime against the woman's right to self-determination.

Most countries criminalized marital rape from the late 20th century onward—very few legal systems allowed for the prosecution of rape within marriage before the 1970s.

Criminalization has occurred through various ways, including removal of statutory exemptions from the definitions of rape, judicial decisions, explicit legislative reference in statutory law preventing the use of marriage as a defense, or creating of a specific offense of marital rape.

In a case of Lord Audley's (1488–1544), for instance, Hale cite's the jurist Bracton (c. 1268) support of this rule, said to have derived from laws of King Æthelstan (r.

927–939) where upon the law holds that even "were the party of no chaste life, but a whore, yet there may be ravishment: but it is a good plea to say she was his concubine".

Laws are rarely being enforced, due to factors ranging from reluctance of authorities to pursue the crime, to lack of public knowledge that sexual intercourse in marriage without consent is illegal.

Marital rape is more widely experienced by women, though not exclusively.

Still, in many countries, marital rape either remains outside the criminal law, or is illegal but widely tolerated.

Although, historically, sexual intercourse within marriage was regarded as a right of spouses, engaging in the act without the spouse's consent is now widely recognized by law and society as a wrong and as a crime.

It is recognized as rape by many societies around the world, repudiated by international conventions, and increasingly criminalized.

In this case, property damage meant that the crime was not legally recognized as damaging to the victim, but instead to her father or husband's property.

Therefore, by definition a husband could not rape his wife. English common law also had a great impact on many legal systems of the world through colonialism. Kersti Yllö states in the prologue of Understanding Marital Rape In a Global Context, "In some cultures, consent is not even something that an individual wife can give.

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