Govt ‘running scared’ over marital rape bill

Noelle Khalila Nicolls Insight 0 Comments

MY MOTHER always told me, ‘a wise man can’t reason away what a fool believes’, so I have little faith my analysis will change the opinions of those afflicted with the ignorance virus, as it relates to the current debate about spousal rape.

I do hope those who are more informed and simply afflicted with a severe case of spinelessness will stop to think again about the impact their cowardice will have on victims of one of the most heinous crimes.

Victims of rape are not fantasies of the public’s imagination; they are real people, as the woman who wrote about her ordeal in The Tribune last year testifies.

“When he forced himself on me he would say he paid for the right to have sex with me whenever he wanted. Many times I was left bruised and sore for days.. On two occasions I even contracted sexually transmitted diseases. He was a chronic “sweethearter” even to relations with a baby-sitter and a maid. The man made my life a nightmare and because of his abuse I often took it out on the children,” she said.

“I often felt dirty, disgusted, hopeless and not in control of my own body. Since leaving nineteen years ago, I have not had a relationship with any other man — scars are too deep. I vowed never to have to go through that kind of sexual abuse ever again! Thank you, Mrs Turner, for paving the way for women to have recourse and to be allowed to have control over their own bodies. I am sure a lot of women appreciate it,” she said.

With the Government’s decision to kill the bill proposed to amend to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, 1991 to extend protection against rape to married women, they have abandoned all of those women suffering in silence, like the one above. They have abandoned their so called progressive agenda; they have opted to represent those that oppress rather than those that are oppressed. According to a 2007 joint report of the United Nations and the World Bank, the Bahamas has the highest per capita rate of rape; not only in the region or the hemisphere, but in the world.

Last week, the Minister of State for Social Development Loretta Butler-Turner revealed the government has no intention of reintroducing the proposed amendments to the Sexual Offences Act when parliament is reconvened. The bill was dropped off the legislative agenda with the prorogation of Parliament last week.

This ends months of speculation about the future of the bill and whether Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham was truly “determined” to have it debated in the House of Assembly. Minister Butler-Turner said the reluctance was in large part because “the people who were meant to benefit most of all from the protection were the ones that have been quite quiet on it and even opposed to it.”

This seems oddly suspicious considering just five months ago Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said he was “encouraged” by support for the proposal. He said so speaking at an FNM Women’s Association meeting, where he also claimed the FNM was committed to equality for women.

Even though the Prime Minister is still at liberty to change his mind, which I certainly hope he does, the statement from Ms Butler-Turner is significant, because for months, while responding to the Tribune’s coverage of the impact of prorogation, she has been reluctant to say the government was anything less than committed to having the debate. Her position was consistently confident in the Prime Minister’s determination.

“This is not something we put forward without thought,” she said at one time. When pessimism took her over in the past she avoided comment or dodged questions. Last week she said point blank the likelihood of progress is slim to none.

“Unfortunately it appears that we have a significant sector of our community that does not wish to participate in 21st Century progress,” said Ms Butler-Turner.

Why is the Government scared to or incapable of taking a position on this matter? Each Member of Parliament should stand up and be counted; each should be held accountable for the support or lack thereof.

Why are they capitulating to nonsense claims of people like Deangelo Duncombe, who wrote last year: “As we know the majority of Bahamian women in society tend to be very spiteful. So here it is, her husband comes home after a hard day of work, and feels the need to perform sexual intercourse, but due to an argument they might have had the night before she decides she will not engage in such activity. Bear in mind she is only doing this to get back at him, now if the law was to pass and he insists on performing sex on her he can be imprisoned. Therefore, to save himself from going to jail he decides to go elsewhere to another female who is willing to satisfy him. However, he is now committing adultery and the wife wants a divorce, which can be morally wrong because the reason for him cheating is because of her displaying her spiteful characteristics.”

I wonder if this is the message the Government truly wants to align itself with. I wonder if this is the lesson Mr Duncombe has taught his mother, sister or daughter. His use of language, no doubt unconscious, reveals a lot about his psychology and the psychology of some people in the Bahamian society. He speaks of a man “performing sex” on his wife, not having sex with his wife. Sex should be a mutual sharing between consenting adults. In this case, if a man wants a stage performance he should get a prostitute.

“Men go by what they see, women go by their emotions. A wife cannot walk around in the house half nude, come out of the shower wet, sleep in the same bed under her husband and expect him not to roll over and not wanting sex. If a husband is upset and he sees his wife, 99.1 per cent of husbands today if they are upset and they see their wife in a good sexual way they want to have sex (just to please themselves). A wife works by her emotions or (mind). If her husband did not cover one to three of a woman’s five basic needs for that day, she will shut down. She will close shop, put on three layers of clothes just for bed, will not cook or clean and last, but not least, she will put on pads and say this is her time of the month — move away,” stated Terrance Gilbert, in a letter expressing his views last year.

Why is it, that in the 21st Century, we have to try to convince elected officials and some people in the Bahamian public that this perception is nothing but a bigoted, dogmatic, chauvinistic, and narrow-minded point of view?

This is not the law of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. No woman should feel or be made to feel as though that is her duty, obligation, or legal mandate.

No man should feel or be made to feel as though this is his right. A government that enables these views to persist is being extremely dishonest, highly irresponsible and downright offensive.

On the day that the 2002 referendum was defeated – the one that would have empowered Bahamian woman to pass on automatic Bahamian citizenship to their children – Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham declared he was “ashamed” the majority of voters decided not to bring the Bahamas in line with United Nations conventions on equal rights for women.

“I said during the course of the campaign that a ‘no’ vote in the Bahamas on the question of equality says we are not willing to be in compliance with the international convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and that we are unwilling to be in compliance with the United Nations on the rights of a child and that would cause me to hold my head in shame,” said Mr Ingraham.

Question one of the 2002 referendum asked voters if they agreed that “all forms of discrimination against women, their children and spouses should be removed from the Constitution and that no person should be discriminated against on the grounds of gender and do you approve the proposed amendments to Articles 3,5,8,9,10,13,14,26 and 54 of the Constitution?”

Many of these articles, Articles 3, 8, 9 in particular, sought to correct the inequality between Bahamian men and women where only a male with Bahamian citizenship is able to transfer his citizenship to his children. In the end the referendum was defeated with more than 60 per cent of voters voting ‘no’.

At the time the Prime Minister said he felt very comfortable with history saying that when Hubert Ingraham was prime minister of the Bahamas he sought to get the Bahamas to deepen its democracy and he sought to get the Bahamas to be in compliance with “these very fundamental international conventions with respect to human rights of women children and their spouses”.

“History will show that I was on the right side,” said Mr Ingraham.

At this eerily similar time, I think it is fitting to say, once again, what a sad and shameful day for the Bahamas. This time, history will not be on the prime minister’s side, because his government did not even have the political will or good will of the people in mind, to offer the proposed amendment for debate on the floor of the House of Assembly.

They claim it has already defeated based on the response from the public, but when has that stopped the Government before. How many unpopular bills have made it to the floor and further to the law books?

As an online commentator posted at Tribune242.com: “What an incredibly sad day for the Bahamas. It would have been good for the usually biggety Ingraham administration to have pushed this through; now, the “vimens dem” know what the Ingraham administration thinks of us. What a sham.”

Whatever happened to standing up for principle, not popular opinion? The principle of the matter is spouses should have the same legal protection from being raped by someone to whom they are married as any other person has from being raped by someone to whom they are not wed. That is good governance. That is basic human rights.

Pandering for votes and running scared is not leadership. The Hubert Ingraham-led government did not lose to the will of the people, they threw in their cards; they caved to the mob; they burned down their own house.

From the time the bill was introduced last July, it caused controversy, with opponents claiming it would increase infidelity, promiscuity and even homosexuality; it would destroy the institution of marriage and contradict the word of God. In fact it would only remove the loophole giving perpetrators of spousal rape impunity. With such a laundry list of nonfactual, illogical, misguided and ill-informed complaints, it is difficult to pinpoint where to start in refuting claims from the bill’s opponents.

Kingdom Life Church pastor Cedric Moss argued that rape cannot be committed in marriage as each spouse gives the other authority over their body and agrees to open-ended sexual consent in the marriage vows. This view is endorsed by the Bahamas Christian Council, which is pretty much the only Christian body withholding support of the bill.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church all endorsed the proposed amendments, as well as several local advocacy groups.

“When will I, as a Bahamian woman, be considered equal to all other citizens in the nation I was born in? When will I no longer have to suffer because of arrogant ‘men of the cloth’ such as Cedric Moss? Who elected him to have jurisdiction over my marital bed or my immortal soul for that matter? My Lord, Jesus Christ, has not informed me of Cedric Moss’ or the Christian Council’s dominion over the religious or sexual affairs of my life,” posted Woman Scorned on Tribune242.com.

“I do not recognise their authority and am fed up with being subject to their hateful, chauvinistic and selfish opinions on matters that are very, very personal and precious to me, such as my freedom,” she said.

Cedric Moss and his fellow members of the clergy are out of touch with many in the Bahamian public and with international standards. Their lackey politicians are locked in step.

Sorry to say, the only reason rape cannot be committed in marriage is because there is an exception clause in the Sexual Offences Act that says: “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 only reason it says “who is not his spouse” is because the law is antiquated. The entire controversy surrounding the bill is based on the removal of these five words.

The exception was inherited from 18th and 19th Century English common law.

At that time in history, women had few to no legal rights – they could not vote, give evidence in court, attend university, gain custody of their children, and had limited property and inheritance rights and few employment opportunities.

Furthermore, at that time the law did not even apply to men and women of African descent because we were enslaved and considered chattel. The laws governing animals and property applied to us. To add insult to injury, the Christian basis of English common law is Old Testament Levitical Law, under which women were also considered chattel. Apparently, this is where some people in the Bahamas want us to say.

Times change. History has proven that. But apparently, time by-passed the Bahamas, as it relates to women’s rights, sexual rights and common sense. In less than one decade, two major legislative pushes that would have advanced the rights of women in the Bahamas failed, because of partisan politics, political obstructionism, and an outright effort to miseducate the populous.

“Leaders lead and leaders should do the right thing. The leaders of this country must protect women’s rights, even if (some of) the women themselves aren’t educated enough to know why they need them. They won’t get more educated until they get their rights. Unbelievable. Like living in the Dark Ages sometimes,” stated regular Tribune242.com commenter, Erasmus Folly.

Although I disagree with much his online commentary, he and I are aligned on this issue.

Another online commentator claimed Erasmus Folly was posturing himself as the “wisest man in the world,” labelling everyone with a different opinion to his own, ignorant.

In response, Erasmus said: “I don’t claim perfect knowledge, but I am happy to point out obvious ignorance when I see it. Not allowing for the reform of the law and preventing married women their rights is ignorance. So, yes, silly you, if you happen to think that way. It is a morally reprehensible and ignorant position to take. The ignorant are ignorant whether they know it or not – in fact that is the whole point – they don’t know it and instead live in Bahamian hypocritical ‘Christian’ bliss while defending positions that Jesus himself would balk at.” Let the preacher say, amen.

Marriage in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas is a legal contract governed by the laws of the land. It’s most tangible impact, legally, is the way in which it regulates the distribution of assets, and inheritance. Most of the meaning society ascribes to marriage is symbolic; it is a belief maintained by a collection of individuals, predominantly with a Christian world view.

The fact that marriage has religious symbolism has no bearing on the fact that marriage is governed by the Marriage Act and the Matrimonial Causes Act.

Aside from an obligation to abide by the laws of the land, everyone in the Bahamas is free to determine for themselves if they choose to ascribe to a particular belief. Everyone is free to practice civil disobedience, to challenge or break laws, especially when they are believed to be unjust, oppressive, or antiquated, as long as they know their actions to be such.

I choose not to ascribe to the belief, touted most fervently by the Bahamas Christian Council that marriage means open ended sexual consent and further that a woman’s body belongs to her husbands. That is my right. If the government wants to oblige me to live by that belief then they should enshrine that principle in law, and even then I would exercise my right to challenge the law. For the time being, there are no such laws in the Bahamas. If some Christians want to argue it is God’s law, then I will take my chances on judgment day.

Religious morals do not govern the contract of marriage; they only govern a symbolic meaning of marriage; neither do they govern the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Laws do.

Although our laws are influenced by Christian principles, the extent of such is outlined in the setting of laws. Let us stop kidding ourselves. The preamble to the constitution is not law. It is a guiding principle. The founding fathers themselves cautioned the Church not to manipulate the meaning of the preamble.

Former parliamentarians George Smith and Sir Arthur Foulkes – both delegates to the 1972 constitutional conference in London – would probably agree, the notion that religious moral or religious ethic supersedes law is a dangerous proposition. The implications of such a vision are most evident in certain Muslim countries in which Islamic law, or Sharia law, is a part of the legal code. In countries where Sharia law is the law of the land, religious leaders have legal authority to determine aspects of daily life, including mandated daily routines, familial, financial and religious obligations.

For the time being, in the Bahamas, as Sir Arthur so eloquently said last year: “The church itself has no constitutional power. No church has the right to perform a government function.”

At the end of the day, the argument for the government to stay out of the marital bed is completely a smoke screen, concocted to safeguard the last bastion of male dominance, which is the belief that a woman belongs to a man once wed, and therefore her body is his to do with as desired.

No matter how loud and impassioned the opponents scream; no matter which pulpit they cry bloody murder from, this is only a law in the minds of bible-thumping zealots, misinformed fanatics and their sheep. In this hypocritical ‘Christian’ society, where sweet-hearting is the norm, for pastors and politicians too, the government has the nerve to support those who seek to convince women that it is their duty, obligation and legal mandate to consent open-endedly to their spouses.

I say it again: This is not the law of the Bahamas, and no woman should feel or be made to feel as though that is her duty, obligation, or legal mandate..

No man should feel or be made to feel as though this is his right. A government that enables these views to persist is being extremely dishonest, highly irresponsible and downright offensive.

This thinking is so radically and fundamentally opposed to the basic tenants of human rights it is astounding. My body is my own. The Church, the government, my husband and no other entity has or should have a right to determine how, when and with whom it is used.

The proposed amendment has nothing to do with regulating marriage. Let me repeat. The proposed amendment has nothing to do with regulating marriage.

It seeks to regulate a heinous sexual offence, hence the reason it is an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act. It seeks to address the problem of sexual violence in our country that is all too prevalent.

Rape is not just some sexual activity taking place between consenting men and women inside or outside of the marriage. Rape is deadly business striking at the core of human dignity.

The irony of this playing out at the same time the United States is pushing through landmark health care legislation in the midst of an all out opposition war is striking. The health care bills were passed in an atmosphere where roughly two thirds of Americans said they were satisfied with the health insurance coverage they already had.

President Barack Obama had the courage to act on behalf of the other third – including 32 million previously uninsured individuals – despite the fact that his approval rating dropped as low as 40 per cent during the most difficult period of his campaign.

He was willing to put his neck on the chopping block because of the principle of the matter. He set his own personal standard that his success as president would be determined by his ability to succeed on health care.

Members of Congress had the courage to act even in face of a maddening crowd, responsible for vandalising senatorial offices and spreading racist propaganda.

The Bahamian Government did not even coordinate an effective public education campaign to galvanize support for the bill. It floundered the entire time. The full weight of the bill was placed on the shoulders of Loretta Butler-Turner.

The Government’s excuse that the people most affected by the loophole were not speaking up is vexing to say the least. Rape is a crime in which victims suffer in silence. In the Bahamas, where the level of intolerance and lack of empathy for victims is frighteningly high, I completely understand why this is so.

And in any event, when since was it that only a woman could speak for a woman; only victims could speak for victims? Is this the regressive agenda of the so called progressive FNM government? If that is the case then we should implement an instant quota in the House of Assembly to reflect the relative gender distribution of the nation. Women make up almost 51 per cent of the population, and yet they sit in only five of the 41 seats in the House of Assembly.

This is acceptable in society because we operate based on a system of representational politics, in which citizens elect officials to have their voices represented, irrespective of whether that elected official is of the same gender, background, or political persuasion. Leaders are supposed to represent.

That being said, this is an issue that affects all women in Bahamian society. Therefore, women regardless of their political, religious or social affiliations should unite to counteract the oppressive societal beliefs that afflict our country today.

There is clearly a virus in the air that the Ministry of Health needs to investigate, seriously. It is making Bahamians repulsed by the thought of all women having equal protection against men who rape. This virus is infecting the minds of otherwise good thinking men and women in the country, straight to the top leadership of the country.

This debate makes it clear that unless an issue has political currency it has no value to politicians. I urge the prime minister to check himself and to check his party. Do what is right, not what is politically prudent. For a change, stand up for voiceless victims of heinous crime, not just people with political and financial clout. Let the opposition be on the wrong side of history.

If bringing the bill back only results in its death then give it an opportunity to die a noble death. To borrow the words of Harlem Renaissance poet, Jamaican born Claude McKay, “Like men (let it) face the murderous, cowardly pack, Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!”

Mr Prime Minister, I urge you to bring the bill back.

 

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