Govt should find courage to address marital rape issue

It should be illegal to rape your spouse. In The Bahamas, we have not fully criminalized marital rape, however.

Under the current law, a man could be charged with rape if he were legally separated from his wife. If they are together the law does not recognize rape.

In 2009, then-Minister of State for Social Development Loretta Butler-Turner tabled a bill in the House of Assembly that would have fully outlawed marital rape.

There was uproar.

Religious conservatives suggested the government sought to interfere in marriages. The controversy led to the bill being shelved.

In late 2017, Dubravka Simonovic, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, spoke to local media on the issue.

She suggested The Bahamas is out of step with the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women with its failure to criminalize all forms of marital rape.

All right-thinking people should agree that no one should be raped.

There should be no protections to rape another person in any situation.

Husbands do not own wives. They have no right to the bodies of the women they are married to without their consent.

Those who think otherwise are misguided. There is no source they could provide to justify forcing a woman to have sex without her consent.

After Simonovic’s public statements, then-Minister of State for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson spoke out in support of criminalizing marital rape.

“If we are going to talk about the equality of women, having regard to trafficking of women and [Bahamas Crisis Centre Director Sandra Dean Patterson’s] lamentations over the years, I think it is time that we come to a sober, realistic and humane conclusion on this,” he said in an interview, stressing he was giving his personal opinion and not that of the government.

“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. You can’t do that.

“I think the penalty should be as it is on the books now [for rape], up to life.”

The Minnis administration has not taken up this issue, even though the attorney general in an address to members of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, in early 2018, announced that The Bahamas government intends to criminalize marital rape.

The churchmen will nuance their view, but many think husbands have a right to the bodies of their wives when they, the husbands, want them. These religious conservatives cling to an archaic view of male-female relations based on male dominance.

Speaker of the House Halson Moultrie recently indicated that he agrees with that view.

“I always prefer to lean with the spiritual aspect. I think that’s the safest way, because laws continuously change,” he said, when asked where he falls on the issue.

Bethel, meanwhile, shied away from giving any update on the government’s thinking on the issue when reporters approached him after Moultrie’s comments pushed the topic back into public consciousness.

It is important for democratic governments to explain to, and consult with, the electorate. It is also important for leaders to lead in doing what is right. Our laws should be amended to ensure that no one is protected when they rape another person.

As we have previously stated, we hope the Minnis administration makes the change.

There is a clearly defined right position on this issue. Rape is wrong in all cases.

There are no exceptions.

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