By Makeida Antonio
Gender activists continue to advocate for an amendment to the law to criminalise marital rape in Antigua and Barbuda.
The issue has been a hot topic recently across various social media platforms, spurring intense debate among men and women in the country as they share their views on whether or not a man can rape his wife – and vice versa.
The discourse also involves professionals who are often looked up to by the public such as attorneys, educators, religious leaders and policymakers who may or may not agree with the suggestion that it is time to modernise the legislation which speaks to sex crimes.
A strong advocate for a legal change is President of the Women Against Rape (WAR) group Alexandrina Wong.
While Wong has argued that women have been disproportionately affected by marital rape, she has been lobbying for the law to reflect the ability for all persons, irrespective of gender, to exercise the right to say no to sexual relations.
“Looking at the traditional and social concept of what men or males are, they are aggressive and so most times it is the woman [who is the victim]. What we have found when there are such cases, nine out of 10 times it is the woman who has experienced the domination and the aggression by her male partner,” Wong said on Observer AM yesterday.
Acting Director of the Directorate of Gender Affairs (DoGA) Jamie Saunders believes socio-cultural norms in Antigua and Barbuda and across the Caribbean may be preventing individuals from recognising marital rape as a crime.
He said over the years women have been utilising the gender-based violence services by DoGA’s Support and Referral Centre to report instances of marital rape.
“I would not say that happens frequently, but with that being said, I think that Nurse Wong and [attorney Zoe Teague] have both indicated that our legislation as well as, I think, the underlying cultural and religious views and traditions associated with marriage, it’s safe to say, especially with the national discourse seen now, that many men and many women probably didn’t see it as rape,” he explained.
Saunders further pointed to the belief by males that they will be mainly penalised by a change in law as the cause of some divide between men and women on the issue. He said men can also be victims of marital rape.
“I think the consensus should be that you can be raped because consent is the key thing and that is not always respected.
“What we must also listen to is the concerns that you hear from some persons when they are talking about the burden of evidence and the cost of investigative procedures and the fact that Miss Teague mentioned this: the legislation does not currently recognise a male being raped, which is something that we must also address,” he added.
Teague, who was also on the discussion panel, referenced the lack of protection offered to women who are raped by their husbands since “marital rape” cannot be remedied in the current law unless there has already been legal intervention in the marriage.
“They feel as though they are entitled to that woman’s body and there is no redress in the law currently for a husband and a wife who are not separated, there is no court order where a wife says ‘no I don’t want to do that’. There is nothing to protect them.
“I know people have this talk that men cannot be raped, but they can be and there is also no protection for them either,” the attorney explained.
Senator Bakesha Francis-James recently chided the Sexual Offences Act 1995 which states that “a husband commits the offence of sexual assault when he has sexual intercourse with his wife without her consent by force or fear where there is in existence in relation to them, one, a decree nisi of divorce, two, a decree of legal separation, three, a separation agreement, or four, an order for the husband not to molest his wife or have sexual intercourse with her”.
She believes that rape in any form should be illegal.