The Davis administration’s unwillingness to commit to addressing the issue of marital rape sends a strong message to victims of gender-based violence in The Bahamas.
That message is that this new administration, like its predecessors, is not serious about combatting all forms of violence in this country.
It also says that a lot of the so-called “call to action” speeches in Parliament are nothing more than publicity stunts aimed at portraying parliamentarians as feminists who stand firmly against such horrendous acts.
But actions speak louder than words.
Minister of State for the Social Services Lisa Rahming previously suggested that the issue would be addressed in pending gender-based violence legislation.
Fearing that the comments made by Rahming, as a member of the Cabinet, would constitute a commitment to address the issue, officials at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) quickly informed reporters that the proposed legislation would not actually address marital rape and that it had not yet been brought before Cabinet.
Days later, Minister of Social Services Obie Wilchcombe declined to state publicly whether he is for or against the criminalization of marital rape.
While Wilchcombe’s decision to not take a stand on the issue is disappointing, it is not surprising given that, not long after he was sworn in as prime minister, Philip Davis, QC, shrugged off a question regarding where marital rape stood on his administration’s legislative agenda.
In response to the question, the prime minister, who promised a new day for The Bahamas, said that he had “too many other things on my agenda to be thinking about”.
A few days later, after members of the public criticized him for his comments, Davis tweeted that he supported having a national conversation about marital rape.
Over the last decade, The Bahamas has had many national conversations about the issue.
We know where the church stands.
We know where many other non-governmental organizations stand.
We also know where residents — young and old and of different socioeconomic backgrounds — stand.
The criminalization of marital rape is not a complex process.
It would not require a constitutional referendum.
It would simply require the deletion of the phrase “who is not his spouse “ from section 3 of The Bahamas’ Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act (1991), which states: “Rape is the act of any person not under fourteen years of age having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse *— (a) without the consent of that other person; (b) without consent which has been extorted by threats or fear of bodily harm; (c) with consent obtained by personating the spouse of that other person; (d) with consent obtained by false and fraudulent representations as to the nature and quality of the act.”
Each administration that has refused to make this simple amendment has sent a clear message: we will not tolerate rape unless your partner does it.
The Davis administration should avoid sending the same message.
— A disappointed citizen