By MALCOLM STRACHAN
THEY say a week is a long time in politics – and Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis has just seen that at first hand.
When he effectively shrugged off the issue of marital rape, saying “I have too many other things on my agenda to be thinking about”, it sparked an outcry that led to him taking a small further step forward. He took to Twitter where he declared that “marital rape is wrong” – it’s sad to say that this most obvious thing of all is a step forward, but it is. He went on to say: “We remain one of the few countries where that is not recognised in the law. An effort to change the law should be part of a larger national conversation and consensus. I very much support having that national conversation.”
So a conversation, without a timeline or a direction, was his solution.
Within a week, the broader picture of the scale of domestic violence in The Bahamas played out in the streets, with a video circulating of a man dragging and beating a woman before running her over with his car.
National Security Minister Wayne Munroe talked about the video, which police said was a domestic dispute, saying: “I would call that more than a domestic dispute. You think of a domestic dispute as a row, that’s much more than a row.
“This is some of what I’ve spoken about which is what we have to address ourselves, our behaviour. That’s completely, completely unacceptable. When I was raised I was raised that you didn’t hit women. That’s much more than hitting a woman, so we have to address again as I say the socialisation of persons. We have to address the anger that seems to be rampant in this country but that’s completely unacceptable.”
Transport and Housing Minister Jobeth Coleby Davis also commented on Twitter, saying: “I just saw the video! What is going on? I am completely outraged! This type of treatment must be condemned by all. Women, men, boys and girls, we must join our voices in the fight against domestic violence. So blatant, my goodness.”
Police Commissioner Paul Rolle also took to Twitter, saying: “No more tolerance for the abuse that existed for years unchecked. Truth is, many of us are products of rape. We need change now! Rape is not statute barred.” He ended the tweet with an image of a green parrot and the words “deal with it” in an animated image.
However, when The Tribune asked if there was an increase in certain sexual offences, the Commissioner said he didn’t have those figures and was “simply voicing my opinion on the public debate”. He added: “Whether an increase or decrease is really not the issue. It has to be condemned otherwise it will continue unabated.”
While this latest incident – playing out on video on social media – might be in the spotlight, the issue of domestic violence should hardly come as a surprise. Time and again in the pages of The Tribune, court cases are reported where women are victims of abuse by male partners or former partners, ranging from smashing the windows of their homes or their car to assaulting the women or their new partner.
This is a moment of outrage that is being felt at a perceived lack of interest in action followed by a demonstration of why action is so clearly needed. The question is, will our leaders respond to this outrage with more than tweets? What happens after those tweets? What will Mr Davis do to further the national conversation? Will Commissioner Rolle treat the issue with enough importance that he actually finds those figures rather than just fire off a tweet and move on?
At least those speaking about the issue now are taking it more seriously – rather than when then Speaker of the House Halson Moultrie said that spiritually a husband cannot rape his wife, or when former Social Services Minister Lanisha Rolle declared marital rape was a private issue. Her successor, Frankie Campbell, also declared that more discussion was needed, just as Prime Minister Davis does now. So, where is the discussion?
In 2017, the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, said marital rape was the most pressing gender-based issue facing The Bahamas. She said the legality of marital rape was “a sign that something is deeply wrong”.
She was right – and not one thing has happened since she said that to change matters.
This is a subject with deep roots – remember when then DNA leader Branville McCartney said that he didn’t think marital rape should be illegal and the outrage that followed in 2012? His response at the time was to open a discussion with women’s rights groups and religious leaders. More discussion, and nothing happening.
While leaders are talking about having a discussion, women are being beaten in the street. Women are being raped in their homes.
Few of those women will have faith in any kind of swift action.
To show how slowly our country moves in taking such action, we need only look to the image of Mr Munroe alongside Ann Marie Davis, wife of Prime Minister Davis, holding up phones to show a successful test of the MARCO alert system last week. Mrs Davis said: “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I think maybe seven or eight years, ever since young Marco Archer was found brutalised and killed.”
It was on September 23, 2011, that 11-year-old Marco Archer went missing and was found dead days later in bushes. That’s more than ten years and we’ve only gotten as far as a successful test on a cellphone.
The people being hurt and abused now do not have ten years to wait. If there is a national conversation to be had, it’s past time it started.