By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Philip “Brave” Davis has told both married and single women to report matters of abuse to the police in the face of a new University of The Bahamas study that explored the prevalence of spousal rape and assaults within marriages.
The study found that one in 12 or an estimated 4,000 married women have been raped by their husbands. The study suggested that around 6,000 wives claimed being victims of sexual abuse.
Overall, married women were more likely to be sexually abused than a single woman by an intimate partner, researchers found.
The findings were condemned yesterday by Human Rights Bahamas’ secretary general Paco Nunez.
In the face of the study’s results, Mr Davis was asked yesterday what he would say to Bahamian women in the country.
“What I say to any woman married or not, if they are aggrieved by being assaulted violently by anyone, they should report it to the police,” the prime minister said on the sidelines of the opening of an exhibition at Pompey Square yesterday.
“The law takes into account the separation of persons who would have had a marriage and any assault on a woman be it whether you call it rape, grievous harm or otherwise the law should take its course.
“Report those incidents to the police.”
For his part, Mr Nunez said the report’s findings were not at all surprising in a country that continues to refuse to promote women’s rights and recognise gender equality.
He said: “It is unconscionable, outrageous and utterly barbaric that at least one in 12 married women in The Bahamas have been raped by their husband, and that even more report being the victim of some other kind of sexual abuse.
“Even worse, as the UB researchers acknowledge, the numbers may only represent the tip of the iceberg; it is well documented that only a fraction of sexual assaults are ever reported, and there is no reason to assume this would not be the same for marital rape.
“In fact, victim silence may be even more likely within a marriage, in the face of a callous society that has already turned its back in two referenda, and a husband who has shown he is willing to commit legally-sanctioned assault, and can do so with impunity.
“We are to be condemned as a society for failing to protect thousands of vulnerable women, and for allowing the sacred institution of marriage to be corrupted by aggressive, predatory behaviour. It is our hope that this new study will finally hold up a mirror to society and force Bahamians to see clearly on this issue.”
He said surely, those who have vocally defended the status quo will now feel sufficiently ashamed to either change their stance or keep silent.
“If they are not yet ashamed, they are well and truly shameless.
“Human Rights Bahamas once again applauds the Davis administration for committing to bring an end to this nightmare once and for all. We urge them to move swiftly to prevent thousands more women from being harmed, traumatised and broken in this way.
“It is time for us to accept that all women – and also many men who find themselves trapped in unhealthy marriages – need, deserve and should be entitled to protection under the law.”
Between mid-September and mid-October of this year, some students at the university collected data from 1,700 women. Of this number, 455 were married and were asked about their experiences of rape and sexual abuse in their current relationships.
The study sought to quantify the extent of the issue against the backdrop that there has been increased outcry for the criminalisation of rape within marriage since the offence does not exist in Bahamian law.
The study comes as the government has said it intends to criminalise spousal sexual abuse. The proposed Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act was last month presented during the Ministry of Social Services and Department of Gender and Family Affairs’ sexual offences legislation one day symposium. The draft amendment to the Sexual Offences Act seeks to criminalise marital rape and redefine what consent is.