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Fanning flames of fear on marital rape issue

This week, the government tabled the Protection Against Violence Bill, 2023, which seeks to provide for the protection and support of victims of violence.

The bill seeks to create a national strategy to prevent and respond to the occurrence of violence and to protect victims of violence; begin a system of information gathering to generate reliable statistics in instances where domestic violence results in death; and allow the country to become compliant with regional and international human rights treaties The Bahamas is a part of.

Under the bill, the Protection Against Violence Commission would be formed, which would provide care and support services for people subjected to violence, especially women, through public and private sector agencies, including shelters, counseling services for family members where appropriate, and care and custody of any affected children.

It is commendable that the government has finally brought this piece of legislation.

The government says consultations on the bill will take place, including town hall meetings throughout the country, prior to debate on the bill in July.

It is concerning, though, that there is still no political will, it seems, to introduce the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, which would criminalize marital rape.

The government introduced the marital rape bill for consultations more than eight months ago. Those consultations are ongoing, we are told.

It appears the Davis administration is not up for the fight it will face from some elements of the church and other sectors of the society who just do not believe rape can take place in a marriage. 

Disturbing statements made by prominent religious leader Rex Major on Sunday at the 50th anniversary of independence ecumenical service, reflect the thinking of some Bahamians on this issue.

“I’m not supposed to say this, but I’m troubled by the concept of the rape in the house because people could lie, and the easy way to get out of this husband which I don’t want any more is I gon’ tell people he rape me,” Major said.

“Now how you gon’ prove? His sperm is there anyway, all the time. What’s the proof? And don’t fool yourself, some people will get rid of you like that. This is a critical issue here, very critical.

“People lie and they have liars with them ‘cus we don’t want this man no more. I gat me eye on something fresh. I’m serious. Let’s be careful how we tread this road here now.”

Here, Major is not really saying “people lie”, but, really, “women lie”.

Not to be outdone, Bishop Walter Hanchell, at a press conference surrounded by other men of the cloth, called marital rape a non issue.

“This thing that is called marital rape in my view is a non issue. I don’t think that the government of The Bahamas should pass legislation to criminalize what happens between a man and his wife. I think that is very wrong,” Hanchell said.

We are disappointed that we are still writing about this issue after all this time. 

The issue, having been raised and attempted to be addressed by successive administrations, has drawn such vitriolic reactions that the political will to address it appears to have evaporated.

The great objection seemed to center around the question, the one raised by Major: What if a wife falsely accuses her husband?

Meantime, no sensible person takes issue with the fact that women are free to accuse men they are not married to of rape.

Some men are convicted; some are acquitted, once the cases are vetted. We have said it previously, that is what our courts are for.

That the opposition to this issue continues to be undergirded by religious leaders, who should know better, perpetuating the ridiculous idea that a man somehow cannot rape a wife because the two are joined in marriage, is most unfortunate.

Giving married women the right to file a rape complaint against an abusive husband would not result in a flood of innocent husbands being jailed because of spiteful, untruthful spouses; it would protect married women in sexually violent relationships.

We should be collectively embarrassed as Bahamians that in 2023 we have been unable to find the courage to criminalize marital rape and move on.

The flames of fear fanned around this topic remain irrational and immature.