“The government shows no interest in dealing with marital rape”


Tribune journalist

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One activist said the current administration continues to demonstrate its disinterest in dealing with the issue of marital rape by “postponing it” and explicitly stating that it prioritizes other issues.

Alicia Wallace, director of Equality Bahamas, told The Tribune yesterday that people in vulnerable situations as well as pressing social and legal issues were “ignored”.

His remarks came after Judge J Denise Lewis-Johnson issued a ruling on August 29 in a divorce case in which a woman claimed her husband would force sex and make her feel like a ‘victim of rape’ throughout their marriage.

While ruling that the husband was cruel for forcing his wife to have sex against her will on numerous occasions, it was found that “there is no rape in marriage” under the law of the Bahamas.

The judge noted that the woman claimed she “felt like a rape victim during the ordeal of intercourse with the respondent.”

Although she granted the couple a divorce and accepted the petitioner’s testimony, the judge said that the issue raised by the parties of non-consensual and forced sex and the word “rape” compelled the court to consider the term in the context of Bahamian marriage laws.

It was pointed out in the judgment that the offense of rape is set out in section 3 of the Sexual Offenses Act which states that rape is the act of anyone under the age of 14 having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his or her spouse, without the authorization the consent of that other person; without consent that has been coerced by threats or fear of bodily harm; with the consent obtained by impersonating the spouse of that other person; with consent obtained by false and fraudulent representation as to the nature and quality of the act.

In response to the judgment, Ms. Wallace addressed the issue of which courts are addressing the issue.

“The current administration continues to demonstrate its disinterest in addressing the issue of marital rape, postponing it and explicitly stating that it prioritizes other issues. People in vulnerable situations and pressing social and legal issues are ignored,” she said.

“In this case, we see that a woman has been repeatedly raped by her husband, and the court refuses to recognize that it is rape, placing the blame on the law and abdicating responsibility for use the law to protect human rights. The ruling refers to sex with a woman as a man’s “right”, but does not refer to a woman’s actual right to autonomy or bodily security.

“On August 20, during one of the sessions in our CEDAW (Convention) Lecture Series, Committee Member Rhoda Reddock focused on Article 5 of the Convention and Bahamian lawyer and CEDAW Committee Member Marion Bethel joined her to talk about the ability of judges to use CEDAW whether or not it has been domesticated by the state, and it has been done in other countries.

“It is clear that Christian values, morals and anything that passes for love are not enough to guarantee a safe and healthy environment or healthy relationships. We have come to depend on the law to tell right from wrong, and on judges to interpret the law. Obviously, both need significant improvements, and that can’t wait.

Equality Bahamas continues to lead the #Strike5ive campaign which advocates for the criminalization of marital rape in the “most explicit way”.

“The Sexual Offenses Act needs to be amended to remove ‘who is not her spouse’ from the definition of rape in section 3, section 15 needs to be repealed, we need a legal definition of consent as well as a non-immunity clause on the basis of marriage, and there must be no time limit,” Ms Wallace said.

However, Dr Sandra Dean-Patterson, director of the Bahamas Crisis Centre, saw the judgment as a step in the right direction for progress.

“Well, I would certainly applaud and commend the judge in this case for putting the reality that is that rape in a marriage is not illegal, but that behavior is wrong and that behavior needs to be corrected, and that ‘There have to be consequences for that,’ she argued.

“And so we would certainly congratulate her and support her with that. And you know, over the years, the Crisis Center has spoken about the violence that too many women live with in marriages and intimate relationships and there should be an acknowledgment, that this is unacceptable. You know, marriage is not a license to beat or rape. You know you have no right to do this and you should not use marriage as a cover or refuge for behavior that is wrong.

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