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