Consider This | Marital rape, pt. 2
“Truth: Rape does indeed happen between girlfriend and boyfriend, husband and wife. Men who force their girlfriends or wives into having sex are committing rape, period. The laws are blurry, and in some countries marital rape is legal. But it still is rape.”
– Patti Feuereisen
Last week, we recounted the recently erupted heated national debate over marital rape in The Bahamas. The debate was sparked by comments made by Dubravka Simonovic, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, that The Bahamas is out of step with the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) relative to its legislation on marital rape.
Therefore, this week, we would like to continue to consider this… Is Simonovic correct in her assertion that The Bahamas is not compliant with CEDAW’s conventions relative to its legislation on marital rape?
This week, we will review the responses of five government ministers and the president of the Christian Council on this matter.
The minister of statefor legal affairs
The first Cabinet minister of the Minnis-led administration to comment on the criminalization of marital rape was Elsworth Johnson, the minister of state for legal affairs.
In an interview with the press, he said, “If we are going to talk about the equality of women, having regard to trafficking of women, I think it is time that we come to a sober, realistic and humane conclusion on this [marital rape]. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that we recognize that a lady was never the property of a man; that her will to consent was never that of a man’s right to determine what she does or what she doesn’t do, whether they are married or not married.”
Minister Johnson affirmed that these were his personal opinions and not those of the government. He asserted, “I can’t speak on behalf of the government. I cannot tell you that my position as it has been over the years has changed. It is even much more so fortified and reinforced. What I will say is that I would challenge anybody to a debate on the topic.”
When specifically asked whether the time has come to criminalize marital rape, the minister unambiguously confirmed, “I am of the view of that the time is come.”
The Bahamas Christian Council president
On the same day that Minister Johnson’s remarks were carried in the newspapers, Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander said “the church remains divided on the issue” and [he] could not yet provide a position on the matter.
He stated, “I don’t think anything would have changed because those who spoke out are still there. The vanguards of the church haven’t changed. Although I might be a new face on the horizon, the leaders of the denominations, for the most part, haven’t changed.”
Bishop Fernander said that he believes that a more practical approach should be taken by reaching out to those persons who are “inflicting gender-based violence” and that we should seek to reform and sensitize persons who are so inclined. He affirmed, “Personally, I believe that legislation cannot change behavior.” He also believes that “it (reform) begins with education”.
The most gracious description that can be attributed to this tepid response from the leader of this august institution is that it lacks inspiration. Bishop Fernander’s statement provides scarce solace to the women in our society who are assaulted by this maniacal behavior that any religious denomination should relegate to the realms of a mortal sin.
The attorney general
The day following Minister Johnson’s comments that marital rape should be criminalized, Attorney General Carl Bethel suggested that criminalizing marital rape might be going a little too far and suggested that the government is currently making no moves “to address the matter at this time”.
He said, “It is not a matter that the government has determined to move on at this time. But what will happen going forward is that I will have some consultation with The Bahamas Christian Council and with the leading church members and denominations and we will see where and how far we can advance this matter.”
The attorney general was less conclusive than his colleague, the minister of state for legal affairs. On the question of criminalizing marital rape, the attorney general noted, “The difficulty, of course, is the question of how sexual violence in marriage is to be addressed. The position of the [Christian] Council when the Ingraham administration tried to do it, was that you couldn’t confuse sexual violence in marriage with the more heinous crime of rape as we understand the definition in the Sexual Offenses Act.
“So, the question is: how do we proceed?”
The attorney general then suggested, “Well, it would seem to come to my mind that, perhaps along the lines of compromise that was suggested this morning, some amendments to the Matrimonial Clauses Act to provide for these sorts of alleged actions, to criminalize them if necessary and also to make sexual violence a ground for divorce could well be the way forward.”
The deputy prime minister
Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest was the third Cabinet minister to weigh in on the subject of criminalizing marital rape. He said, “My personal belief is that no man has the right to force himself upon anyone, whether married or not. As far as I am concerned, I think, as a fundamental right, every woman has a right to determine what happens with her body, and no man has [that] right (to commit rape).”
“So, to the extent that we need to look at it legislatively, certainly I am open to it. I can’t imagine that any man would think it’s right to force himself upon a woman. I don’t care if you are married to her or not; it’s just unacceptable.”
To the question of whether marital rape should be criminalized, the deputy prime minister was as definitive and conclusive as his colleague, the minister of state for legal affairs.
The minister of social services
On the same day that the deputy prime minister’s comments were carried in the press, Minister of Social Services and Urban Development Lanisha Rolle indicated that marital rape is a private issue and that, before legislation is enacted to criminalize it, there ought to be public discussion on the matter.
She opined, “Well, certainly we do not support any form of violence against women. In relation to marital rape, I’ve always said it is an issue that is private.
“It can become public, but we want to start where marriage is sacred and marriage is private, and so if we are going to legislate any type of law to affect marital couples and relationships between those parties, it is proper to have a conversation with the wider community to get their perspective on how they feel about it.
“So, if we are going to legislate something like that, it must be something where we have a wide support of the community, because we want to protect the privacy of individuals and of marriages and that’s very, very important.”
Minister Rolle stated that rape does not only affect women and, therefore, the issue needs to be viewed from a wider perspective. “We can’t look at one side; there are two that make a relationship. And so we want to look at, when it comes to marital rape, I think we want to have a conversation with all parties involved and respect the privacy of marriages and sanctity of that relationship.” [sic]
There was considerable consternation and public pushback from several important elements of civil society to Minister Rolle’s rather cavalier comments, particularly because she is the only female Cabinet minister in the Minnis-led administration and because of her critically important role as the minister of social services.
The prime minister
When questioned on his views on marital rape, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis replied that he has no personal view on the matter. He responded, “I think with all matters [and] new legislation that we will be bring bringing forth, I think that we will take it to the public first, listen to them [and] be guided by them.”
We will address some of the public’s responses and recent developments regarding the criminalizing of marital rape next week, in our third and final installment of this series.
- Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Account- ants, Forensic & Litigation Sup- port Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.