Utah is one of just six states where marital rape is not a crime.

While the state took a major step forward this year by enacting a strong domestic violence statute intended to protect women caught in abusive relationships, marital rape was not addressed in the legislation.The fact that 44 states have seen fit to enact legislation putting this heinous act where it belongs, in the criminal code, is strong evidence that Utah needs to reconsider its rape laws.

Utah's rape statute states that "a person commits rape when the actor has sexual intercourse with another person, not the actor's spouse, without the victim's consent." The wording effectively eliminates marital rape from prosecution.

The recent brutalizing of a Salt Lake woman is a case in point.

After leaving 3rd District Court in downtown Salt Lake after winning a divorce, the woman's supposed ex-husband, who was free on a prison work-release program, accosted her and threatened to kill her as he forced her into his car. During her 11-hour captivity, the mother of seven was repeatedly beaten and raped.

While kidnapping and assault charges are expected to be filed in the case, the man may escape prosecution for rape because police are unsure whether the divorce decree had been formally signed by the judge before the sexual assaults occurred.

The need for a tougher law is also supported by findings in Utah County, where 80 percent of the women seeking help at a shelter for battered women said they were raped by their abusive spouses.

Moreover, a 1985 study indicates that one out of every 10 married women will become victims of marital rape.

The 1991 Legislature should enact a law that can be effectively used to protect women from sexual abuse both inside and outside of marriage.