Rape cannot happen within marriage in Utah. That's the law.

Besides that, if a woman gets a divorce and then her ex-husband rapes her before the paperwork is complete, he won't be punished.Many people may have heard by now about the recent bizarre case of marital rape - the Salt Lake woman who was abducted, beaten, and raped by the man from whom she had just obtained a divorce.

As she was leaving 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City after being granted the divorce, her ex-husband, who was free on a work-release program from the Utah State Prison, accosted her.

He forced her into his car, then kept her captive for 11 hours. She said that afterward he said, "You tell anyone about this and I'll snap your neck."

She said that he talked about driving to Nevada to get married again so that she would have to die with his last name.

Prosecutors backed away from a rape charge. Although the divorce was granted verbally by Judge Richard Moffat at about 10:30 a.m., the legal papers may not have been signed until hours after the hearing - and the alleged rapes.

So the man could be charged with kidnapping and assault but not rape. Now we learn that Salt Lake County prosecutors have decided to drop the kidnapping and assault charges too. The reason? The woman may have had opportunities to escape when she was unattended, but did not.

Such a conclusion represents the height of insensitivity toward women.

The victim, understandably, was distressed. She said, "A rape is a rape, isn't it? The judge verbally granted the divorce and said I could have my maiden name back - and he even issued a restraining order against my ex-husband. How much more clear do they want it?"

I can't imagine.

So if you have never accepted the term `marital rape' - because the State of Utah doesn't - now is the time to change your mind. You should also know that 44 other states do accept marital rape.

Utah's rape law simply says that "a person commits rape when the actor has sexual intercourse with another person, not the actor's spouse, without the victim's consent."

This law is so incredibly outdated that we should all be outraged enough to take action to change it, because if we don't, innocent women will continue to be brutalized by their own husbands.

A 1985 study reported that one out of every 10 married women will become victims of marital rape. According to the director of the National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape in Berkeley, Calif., the correct figure is one in seven.

Experts say that men who rape their spouses do so to express extreme anger or to use power to degrade or humiliate them.

Logically, rape is defined as forcing someone to have sexual intercourse - whether the people involved are married or not. It is not logical to assume that the title of husband should make the act of rape any less of a crime.

To assume that rape is not possible in marriage is to naively assume either that all men are kind, understanding and respectful of their wives - or that all men are entitled to exert whatever power they wish over their wives.

Unfortunately, we live in the real world - meaning that neither of these assumptions is true. Therefore, Utah is long overdue in its need to revise its rape law.

Moreover, the victim of this bizarre marital rape is also the victim of a "letter of the law" mentality. Surely no reasonable person will assume either that this woman was still married to the prison inmate who assaulted her - or that kidnapping and assault charges should be dropped because she may have muffed an opportunity to escape.

If there were ever a time when circumstances cry out for a judgment based on the "spirit of the law," this is the time.