The Crisis Centre’s statement on the Amendment to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act (1991)
THE AMENDMENT TO THE SEXUAL OFFENSES AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT (1991) The Constitution of the Bahamas guarantees basic human rights and protection from harm to all citizens.
All persons in our nation have the right to a life free from violence whether that violence is physical, psychological, or sexual, whether that person is a child or adult, male or female, married or unmarried.
THE AMENDMENT TO THE SEXUAL OFFENSES AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT (1991) The current Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Legislation (1991) read as follows “Rape is the act of any person not under fourteen years of age having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse”. The amendment proposes to delete the words “who is not his spouse” and will therefore read, “Rape is the act of any person not under fourteen years of age having sexual intercourse with another person”. The Crisis Centre supports this amendment which seeks to do two things: 1. remove the spousal rape exception from the Act; and 2. remove the time restriction of six months for summary offences.
1. THE SPOUSAL RAPE EXCEPTION Spousal rape was specifically made an exception to the definition of rape in the 1991 Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences Act (“the Act”). As a result, rape within marriage is currently not a criminal offence. It is the view of The Crisis Centre that it is important to remove this spousal rape exception from the Act.
While the majority of victims of rape are female, this amendment extends protection to men and women. It is important to recognize the equality of women, and wives, within the law. The spousal rape exception developed historically out of the view that a wife was the property or chattel of her husband, and therefore had no legal rights to her own body. This exception was developed in the 18th and 19th century English common law which we inherited. At that time in history, women had few to no legal rights – they could not vote, give evidence in court, be sued, attend university, gain custody of their children, and had limited property and inheritance rights and few employment opportunities.
The position of women within our society has changed drastically – wives should be recognized as equal citizens within the law. By keeping the spousal rape exception, we are perpetuating social stereotypes of inequality between men and women. These social stereotypes contribute to sexual violence between men and women. The Caribbean, and The Bahamas specifically, suffers from extremely high rates of sexual violence. According to the Joint UN/World Bank 2007 Report ‘Crime, violence and development: trends, costs and policy options in the Caribbean’ (“the Joint Report”), The Bahamas has the highest per capita rates of rape in the world. The report cites reported rape statistics at 133 per 100,000 per year. Police statistics cite rape rates at 69 from January to June 14th 2009. An analysis of reported cases of sexual violence from 1990-1999, reveals that 3,093 men, women, and children were sexually assaulted during those years. Prison statistics in 2000 revealed that there were less than 150 sex offenders in the prison. Of significance also is the fact that rape is one of the most under reported crimes around the world. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2004 cites that under half (38.5%) of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the police.
At The Crisis Centre we find that women generally do not want to report rapes, especially when the perpetrator is known to them nor do they want to go through the criminal justice system because of the traumatizing, lengthy, and arduous legal processes they are subject to and the stigma that they often internalize. Victims have to be examined at the hospital, be interviewed by police, made to undergo a confrontation, be interviewed by a lawyers, and will often be subjected to rigorous cross-examination in two trials. Statistics do not support the highly publicized myth that most cases are false allegations.
We understand that concern has been voiced that if the law is changed, there may be false accusations of spousal rape. Perjury and deceit of a public officer are existing offences which would punish false testimonies, but to further address these concerns the Crisis Centre would support an amendment to the Bill to include both approval of the Attorney General before prosecution can proceed, and stricter penalties for false accusations of spousal rape. Rape is a crime of violence. Spousal rape is also a crime of violence. Victims who are raped by someone they share their life, home, and family with can experience profound psychological injuries and undergo betrayal trauma. They have to cope with the lost of trust in their partners, they have to cope with fear and shame. Bahamas is facing a crisis of sexual violence. It is important that we clearly condemn and outlaw sexual violence in any form, whether the victim is adult or child, married or unmarried, male or female. All individuals in our nation must have the right to protection from harm.
2. TIME RESTRICTION OF SIX MONTHS FOR SUMMARY OFFENCES The second aspect of the Bill is to extend the time restriction of reporting summary offences from six months to two years. This part of the Bill has nothing to do with removing the spousal rape exception. Rape is an indictable offence within the Act, not a summary offence. The passage of the second part of the Bill would encourage and enable those victims of sexual assault who are over fourteen to report the violation. Research has shown that young victims often take a while to report their victimization. When they do, and it is beyond six months, our police are unable to prosecute.
Dr. Sandra Dean-Patterson Director of the Crisis Centre
Since organizing the conference on Sexual Violence in the Caribbean (co-ordinated and brilliantly executed by Donna Nicolls) two years ago, the 29th September was chosen to recognize a day to address the issue of sexual violence. Last year we held an exhibition in the Mall at Marathon along with an opening ceremony. This year, volunteers felt that a press conference in a cemetery to depict the serious nature and sometimes, deadly consequences of sexual violence, would make the greatest impact at this time.
The press conference will be held at 11am on Tuesday, 29th September in the Eastern Cemetery on Shirley Street. All volunteers are asked to attend as we gather with other concerned members of the community to express our abhorrence of all forms of sexual violence on children or adults, perpetrated by those either unknown or known to the victim, married or unmarried to the victim.
If there are any changes to time or place, it will be announced here.
See you there!
The meeting was quite well attended by an enthusiastic group of volunteers.
A discussion on the proposed amendment to the Sexual Offences Act to take out the exemption of the charge of rape when the victim is the spouse was animated. The general feeling is that the community at large does not really understand the concept of marital rape and that much more work has to be done to educate and inform in order to change the mindset of many people.
The Crisis Centre will be presenting its view on Marital Rape and the proposed amendment which, in fact, is only the removal of five words, and this will be posted soon. Several volunteers are working on this. It was suggested that, instead of talking only about Marital Rape, it might be more effective to focus on functional versus dysfunctional relationships during which discussions the issue of rape, including marital rape, can be addressed. As women have not be forthcoming in presenting their views on marital rape, it was suggested that many of them are in fear of reprisals, both at home, in the work place and in the church, if they speak out. One very valid comment was that many women do not have positive and assertive female role models to emulate. If they had, this might then give them the confidence to speak out on how they really feel.
After a lengthy discussion, it was planned that to recognize The Day to End Sexual Violence on the 29th September, a press conference will be held (in a cemetery for effect) to promote healthy relationships and to launch a longer campaign on this topic. In this way it is hoped to appeal to the greater community and capture their attention, thereby making them more open to ideas with which they may not have hitherto been prepared to consider and accept.
It was felt too that if people in authority, such a pastors and teachers, etc. have a clear understanding about Marital Rape, then they should be able to pass that understanding onto those who listen to them.
There is to be an exhibition in Town Centre Mall on 10th October mounted by the Full Figured Women Pageant organizers on Child Abuse and their representative offered to extend the exhibit to include Sexual Violence in their theme.
Facebook pages such a Felicity Humblestone’s page on Marital Rape should be used to spread the message of any upcoming activities.
The focus then went to Crisis Centre Month in November with attention being given to Teen Relationship Abuse. After some discussion, the theme “Love Shouldn’t Hurt” was chosen. Some of the activities to be organized were visits to schools, particularly Senior High Schools, with a play to be written by Thea Rutherford, a Big Grill Off in which men would participate (do all the work!!) a movie night, when a film pertaining to violence against women would be shown, and a newspaper supplement.
Lynn Symonette from the Women’s Bureau, suggested that the Crisis Centre organize an activity to specifically recognize the International Day to End Violence to Women.
Several volunteers signed up to undertake the planning of the activities for the 29th of this month and also for Crisis Centre Month in November.
This is an exciting time for the Centre with so many enthusiastic young people coming forward with creative ideas for consciousness raising and sensitization of members of the community.
If anyone who did not sign up would like to assist or has any additional ideas, please call Novelette at the office on 328.0922
I was developing a brochure on Marital Rape and came across this link to a site with clips of films addressing the issue of domestic violence and abuse. I would encourage everyone to look at at least some of them.
Hope to see you all on Saturday at 10am for our general meeting. We have so much to discuss, especially plans for Crisis Centre Month in November, which will focus on Teen Dating Sexual Violence. Come with energy and commitment….we need you!
This is a terribly tragic story of child abuse in the UK. I am posting the video so that we here in The Bahamas can continue working towards the elimination of all forms of child abuse.
Marital rape ban ‘tragically wrong’
By JASMIN BONIMY ~ Guardian Staff Reporter ~ email@example.com:
The Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) said yesterday that the proposed amendment to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act outlawing marital rape would be “tragically wrong” if made legal in its current form.
“Such a law is appropriate to govern sexual intercourse between two persons who are not married to each other because, unlike married people, they have no contract that implies open-ended sexual consent. Therefore, specific moment by moment consent is required by them,” said a four-page statement from the Council.
“But can it be right to bring married people under such a law designed for unmarried people? We strongly disagree. It is not right, and it can never be right to bring all married couples under this definition of rape whereby moment to moment consent is required for every stage of every act of sexual intercourse.”
The Christian Council said that if the amendment passes into law, “while it may be legal, it will be wrong.”
“And it will be tragically wrong because it would be disregarding the marriage covenant and contract between a man and woman, when on the day of their marriage in the sight of God and in the company of witnesses, they pledged to give themselves to each other in holy matrimony and thereby gave each other upfront implicit open-ended sexual consent.”
The umbrella organization that represents many Christian denominations in the country said discourse with heads of local churches has lead most in the Council to believe the marital rape law could have far-reaching consequences.
Citing biblical text, the BCC said marriage between a man and woman seals a contract of “conjugal rights” between the pair, which implies mutual rights of companionship, aid and sexual relations.
“Therefore as it relates to sexual relations, by virtue of getting married, a man and a woman give upfront, implicit and open-ended sexual consent to each other on the day of their marriage for the duration of their marriage,” said the statement.
“If one party to the marriage wishes to revoke their implicit sexual consent, he or she can apply to the court for some kind of order of protection, separation, or dissolution of the marriage. However, until such time, implied sexual consent arising from the marriage contract continues.”
The Christian Council said the proposed amendment, in its current form, would interfere with the marital contract entered in by two people as it defies “open-ended sexual consent.”
Currently, marital rape is only recognized in The Bahamas if the husband and wife are separated or in the process of getting a divorce. If a couple is married and there has been no separation, no rape can occur under Bahamian law.
In late July, the Ingraham administration presented proposed legislation to Parliament that would totally ban marital rape in The Bahamas.
Since then, several religious leaders from various denominations that fall under the BCC have said they support the marital rape ban.
In a recent statement, Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder said when forced sexual activity takes place within the context of marriage, the biblical understanding of marriage is distorted and the relationship between husband and wife is ruptured. Pinder stressed that such sexual activity is not conjugal love and is rightly seen as a crime against the dignity of the human person.
“It must be clearly understood that rape is never an act of love nor is it ever an act of intimacy. It is always an act of violence against the person. Like any act of violence, be it physical, verbal or otherwise, rape has no place in the communion of life and love which is marriage properly understood,” Pinder said.
Earlier this week, The Bahamas Methodist Church urged the government to bring the legislation into force as soon as possible.
“The double-standard we have held between marital rape (since it cannot be legally defined as such) and other rape needs to be removed. Rape, which is a crime of violence, must be defined, tried and punished as such,” said President of the Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church William Higgs.
“No crime of violence should ever be confused with the sexual intimacy of marriage.”
And in an address to a Rotary club yesterday, Anglican Archdeacon James Palacious also expressed support for the amendment being proposed.
“I believe that the law seeks to discourage men who are in very strained relationships with their wives even if they are still living together from forcing their wives to have sex,” said Palacious.
“In other words, such relationships are already dead and they only need a formal burial to be performed by the courts. Consider the woman whose husband is having sex all over the place ‘homosexually’. Does she not have the right to protest by saying no?”
While insisting that it denounces all acts of rape, the Christian Council said yesterday any laws passed should seek to encourage, strengthen and build a better understanding within the family unit.
The Christian Council made several suggestions that it said would address concerns raised.
“The words ‘who is not his spouse’ should not be deleted from the definition of rape, thereby leaving it as is and allowing rape to only be possible between two persons who are not married to each other,” said the statement.
The Christian Council recommends that Parliament pass a new amendment that makes forced sexual intercourse in marriage a crime which can only be prosecuted in cases of provable force and harm, thereby barring trivial and other allegations that cannot be proven.
“The basic form of the offense should be called a term similar to ‘spousal abuse’ and severe forms called ‘aggravated spousal abuse’. This new amendment should require the attorney general’s consent to charge in cases where the accused person is under 21 years of age,” the statement said.
“Additionally, if a spouse is convicted of violence which led to rape within marital bonds, there should be mandatory rehabilitative steps prior to any form of incarceration. Should there be subsequent abuses leading to rape of a spouse then the full strength of the law should be applied, that is imprisonment etc.”
The Christian Council added, “Perhaps in this regard the government and the church should seek to partner along with other social agencies to ensure that we have qualified, trained and professional persons and personnel to provide appropriate rehabilitative centers to facilitate such a growing concern within our society.”
Friday, September 4, 2009