Leader comment: Year when marital rape became a crime will shock you

A life sentence given to domestic abuser Michael Gray shows how much has changed since the 1980s when Scottish courts first decided a man could be charged with raping his wife.
Domestic abusers beware; your actions could lead to a life sentenceDomestic abusers beware; your actions could lead to a life sentence
Domestic abusers beware; your actions could lead to a life sentence

Not so very long ago, domestic abuse was viewed by some as a private matter, nothing for the police to concern themselves with.

It was not until the 1980s that the police first started charging men over the rape of their wives in Scotland, leading to a historic court ruling in 1989 that this was actually illegal. The Lord Justice General threw out arguments that a legal principle laid down in 1796 – stating that a husband could not be found guilty of the rape of his wife – still applied.

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During the case, a defence lawyer had tried to convince the court that “a wife has no absolute right to say no whenever she wants” and that a man who “overcomes his wife’s reluctance by force … could be charged with assault”. Criminalising marital rape would “break marriages” rather than “help them in any way”, he added.

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As the life sentence given yesterday to 50-year-old Michael Gray shows, such attitudes are long gone.

Over nearly three decades of domestic abuse, Gray’s crimes included rape, sexually assaulting women while they slept, using them as punch-bags while awake, and compelling them to have sex with other men. The judge branded him a “danger to women”. After the case, the police said they hoped it would encourage others who are the victims of domestic abuse “to have confidence that they will be taken seriously, by both the police and our partners, if they come forward”.

Gray will serve seven years in prison before he’s eligible for release, just one year short of the minimum imposed on serial rapist John Worboys in London. Parole board chairman Nick Hardwick has said he is “confident” Worboys will not reoffend.

However the decision to release a man suspected of more than 100 rapes after only serving the minimum required has caused widespread uproar, with London mayor Sadiq Khan lodging an application for a judicial review of the move.

The tide of public opinion is continuing to turn sharply against rapists, domestic abusers and male violence against women in general, as the #MeToo campaign clearly shows.

So, in seven years’ time, when Gray comes up for parole, he may find board members will view his bid for freedom in a rather different light.

Given his appalling crimes, they will surely wish to be certain that this “danger to women” no longer poses a risk if he is ever to be released.