By Makeida Antonio
Legal consequences to marital rape have been an ongoing discussion across the Caribbean, and those discussions have picked up pace here in Antigua and Barbuda.
Many have expressed their desire for the laws surrounding rape and other forms of sexual assault to be clearer and more distinct, regardless of the type of relationship that two parties are engaged in, if a relationship exists at all.
However, in some corners of society, especially among individuals who hold strong religious view, there is a sentiment that it is not possible for a wife to decline sexual activities with her husband. Others have questioned how evidence would be obtained to prove that a husband attempted to, or successfully had nonconsensual sex with his wife.
Independent Senator and women’s rights advocate, Senator Bakesha Francis-James, said she is in full support of the consideration to make marital rape a criminal offense.
She believes that rape in any form should be illegal regardless of the country’s status of having a Christian society, and the Biblical doctrine that many tend to follow to some degree within their personal lives.
“I agree that it should be considered a criminal offense. Let’s face it, rape is rape whether you are married or not. Although we are a Christian society, and the Bible indicates that we women should submit to our husbands, we still have a human right to decide whether we consent or not,” Senator Francis-James told Observer in an interview.
According to Part Two, Subsection One of The Sexual Offenses Act (1995), “a husband commits the offense of sexual assault when he has sexual intercourse with his wife without her consent by force or fear, or where there is existent in relation to them, one, a decree in 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.”
Senator Francis-James called this portion of the existing law “unacceptable,” as it means that currently only conditions of separation or divorce would make marital rape a legal case.
“Our understanding from the law here is that if you are not going through a divorce or separation, you cannot abstain from your husband. I think this is certainly ignorance and we need a legislative reform, we need to advocate to have the law changed because it is a woman’s human right whether she wants to abstain or not, whether she wants to submit or not.”
Marital rape has been criminalised in several countries across the globe including our neighbours, Cuba and Venezuela.