EDITOR, The Tribune.
KINDLY permit space in your valued paper for an urgent and deeply felt comment regarding a statement recently attributed to the Minister of Social Services on the burning issue of marital rape.
When a government comes to power promising "It's the people's time", the Ministry directly charged with the well-being of the people is an appointment of heavy responsibility with the potential for as weighty an impact upon the quality of Bahamian lives, families and society in general, hence upon overall national development.
In this light, I was stunned when, in response to cries from many respected citizens for a law recognising and criminalising marital rape, the good lady who currently holds the title of Minister of Social Services opined that the question of marital rape is "a private matter" and there should not be a "rush" to legislation.
To say that I was astounded, puzzled and angry all at once is to fail abjectly to encapsulate the mind and body-shaking emotion that overwhelmed me. It hurt even more because the Minister is the only woman in the National Cabinet.
This leads me to some urgent questions that must be answered by a government of whom I have high expectations, following the 2012-2017 implosion governance that was heard around the world. What pre-service preparation is given to those members of Parliament who will serve in the National Cabinet, especially the Minister of Social Services? Before speaking on an issue so sensitive and so laden with grievous import, what expert counsel did she seek? What reading did she do on the subject of marital rape?
I'm certain that if she did read, her reading must have stopped at an account of the opinions of the 18th century English jurists to whom we owe the common law, which allows men to brutalise their wives with impunity. In India where a husband still enjoys such a fearful right, The Indian Express provided the history behind the precedence our law establishment follows:
"The grounds for 'marital immunity' for rape prosecution were laid by Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale in The History of the Pleas of the Crown, published in 1736, 60 years after his death. He (Hale) wrote, 'The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract.' This 'Implied Consent Theory of Sir Hale (sic)' found its way into the legal system of all former British colonies that adopted the common law system." That includes The Bahamas and, no doubt, the underpinning of Minister Rolle's statement and the reason for this letter.
Does this mean that an inherently bad principle should trump the testimony of medical professionals who treat patients suffering from the physical and emotional wounds and diseases forced upon them by their spouses? The trauma is no different, no less harmful than that inflicted by non-spousal assailants. Why should the latter be charged and punished by the law and the vicious husband go free?
Minister of Social Services, did you deign to listen to the complaints of women so certifiably abused? Did you listen to counsellors of such agencies as the Crisis Centre who offer abused women solace? Did you seek counsel from our several august psychologists and psychiatrists who attempt to rescue women from the grave emotional trauma and mental defects victims have been known to suffer? Dear Minister, are Bahamians of your gender not entitled to equality. What a great pity that in cases of marital rape the victims are not granted the saving grace of immunity from physical and mental suffering. Unhappily, Minister, 'sorry' or the fact that the attacker is the victim's spouse does not ease the pain or cure the diseases transmitted by serial adulterer husbands.
Based on the dictum that marital rape does not exist, and is therefore not a crime, pre-marriage counseling should include the caution to women on the verge of marriage to "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." This is the same warning that is written above the gates to hell in Dante's Inferno.
Imagine that we claim to be a democracy and a Christian nation. Such a sad misconception or cruel joke in light of the offenses to human rights and dignity that remain enshrined in Bahamian law and precedence.
Yet, there is hope in the examples offered by other nations. Bravo to Poland, which country in 1932 became the first to pass a law explicitly criminalising spousal rape. Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the former Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia soon followed suit. So have South Africa, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia, Ghana, and Israel. Marital rape is an indictable offence also in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, so too in all 50 of the United States, that democratic heavyweight, and even in the United Kingdom, where the House of Lords, as noted in The Indian Express, "struck down its common law principle that a marriage contract implied a woman's consent to all sexual activity." Even in traditionalist Nepal, where the high court has ruled that spousal immunity contravened the constitutional right of equal protection and the right to privacy.
Bravo Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest for having the courage to make the following statement: "My personal belief is that no man has a right to force himself upon any woman, whether married or not…I think, as a fundamental right, every woman has a right to determine what happens to her body…". Thank you DPM for going further with a condemnation of abuse that is free of gender bias.
To the Minister of Social Services, a bit of advice: Not every platform presented should be mounted or microphone seized without prior deep thought -- certainly not if you are to satisfy the obligations of ethics and the responsibilities to which your acceptance of your high office implies consent. To the previous, supposed administrators of social justice in The Bahamas, please now be silent, unless you precede your remarks with a loud, tearful 'Mea culpa, I remained silent in the face of rampant oppression, because my government spurned freedom of information and gender equality!"
I'm next going to propose the publishing of a Bahamian bible from which will be expunged all mention of the word 'love'. Let's also deep six Ephesians 5:25, which is in direct conflict with Bahamian common law and the value system of all too many of our fellow Bahamians, male and female. At the same time, let's not dare to claim democracy without the reservation: "Human rights as set forth in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas do not apply equally to women, migrants fleeing oppression and any square peg, who does not fit into the round, perilous hole of Bahamian bigotry."
December 21, 2017.