Speaker ‘obligated’ to view marital rape in legal context

House of Assembly Speaker Halson Moultrie has an obligation to view the issue of marital rape from a legal perspective, said attorney Marion Bethel, who serves on the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Bethel was responding to Moultrie’s admission that he is “conflicted” on the issue, but leans toward the view that, spiritually speaking, it is not possible for one spouse to rape another.

“You’re a legislator and you’re a policymaker and you hold the public trust,” she said.

“And as part of the governance of this country and the fact that we have ratified several conventions that support the criminalization of marital rape, in those positions of public trust, legislators are obligated to look at it from that perspective.”

Bethel authored the report “The Criminalization of Marital Rape and Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Across the Commonwealth”, which Moultrie tabled in the House of Assembly last week.

The speaker said he was presented with the report during a recent conference in Saint Lucia where the matter was discussed extensively alongside other social issues faced by the region.

The report said The Bahamas has an international obligation to criminalize marital rape, but it has not progressed as “a historical attachment to the common law implied consent theory of sexual relations within marriage, coupled with resistance from religious leaders” leaves gaps in the legislation, which does not provide women with access to justice or reparation.

It noted that two proposed amendments to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, which would have been adequate in criminalizing marital rape, were shelved “amidst a perceived attack on the sanctity of marriage and religious and family values”.

Bethel said the lack of legislation to criminalize marital rape puts the country at odds with international human rights standards. She said the government has made promises to the international community but failed to follow through.

“I think it’s unfortunate that we go to international conferences and we make certain kinds of promises and commitments and we come home and we don’t drive it forward in the way that we have professed to do or that we intended to do,” she said.

“So, I think that it’s on the back burner. It’s the responsibility of the government to bring it back on the front burner. And I think it is also the responsibility of civil society to make sure that marital rape is criminalized.”

Bethel added, “The Bahamas made a commitment to do something about it, as far as I’m aware, and we have not done it.

“So, The Bahamas is not in compliance with the conventions that it has ratified. The international human rights standard in this regard is to criminalize marital rape.

“The main issue is one of consent. If either spouse does not consent to have sex within marriage, it’s a human rights violation.”

In 2018, during an appearance before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the government intends to criminalize marital rape.

Yesterday, he indicated that he had no comment on the matter.

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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