By JADE RUSSELL
ACTIVISTS said the draft amendment to the Sexual Offences Act that seeks to redefine rape and consent is a step in the right direction, however, the outraged reaction from some religious leaders shows there’s still more work to be done.
The proposed Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act was presented during the Ministry of Social Services and Department of Gender and Family Affairs’ sexual offences legislation one-day symposium at Superclubs Breezes on Thursday.
Under the proposed bill, rape is redefined as “the act of any person not under 14 years of age having sexual intercourse with another person without the consent of that person where he knows that person does not consent or is reckless as to whether the person consents”.
The draft bill adds a new section titled ‘3a’ that addresses the issue of consent which it defines as “the active agreement to sexual intercourse or to indecent assault, given expressly and freely, by overt acts, or words indicating agreement by a person, who has the capacity or legal ability to consent”. The new law would make marital rape a crime.
When contacted for comment, Equality Bahamas Director Alicia Wallace said that she was pleased to see that their recommendations for the draft of the bill was reflected in terms of redefining rape and the issue of consent.
“We also called for a definition of consent, which we did not see at all in the 2018 draft. So again, we’re pleased to see this progress. And we also noticed that the attorney general said that they looked at Guyana and Canada which have definitions of consent. And those were the two countries that we actually recommended we look at knowing that they had a very good, very strong definition of consent,” Ms Wallace said.
However, there has been a divided response over the draft bill as some religious leaders expressed their outrage on the proposed rape laws. During the question-and-answer period at the symposium, one pastor called the draft legislation “the wickedest and most demonic” bill in the country’s history.
In response to the criticism from some religious leaders on the draft bill, Ms Wallace said it seems the very “hateful” and “troubling” comments are an ongoing cycle.
“We know that for many years, administration after administration and the government of The Bahamas have bent over backwards to placate the most regressive of religious leaders. And that seems to be continuing where they were given all this space to make very, very hateful, very troubling comments about women about marriage, and really confusing the act of sex, which is consensual with the act of rape, which is violence,” she said.
Ms Wallace continued that it’s time for persons in the religious community to raise their voices for what is right.
“We need right-minded and justice-minded religious leaders to step up and speak up, because this silence makes them complicit with these horrible leaders, who, by their own admission - believe that they have the authority and they have the right to rape people because they’re married to them. We need people who understand and support women’s rights, and who are leaders within their own religious communities to step up,” she said.
Ms Wallace also noted following Attorney General Ryan Pinder’s presentation of the bill, they repeated their call for a clause of non-immunity on the basis of marriage.
For her part, Prodesta Moore, president and founder of Women United, told The Tribune on Friday she is excited for the progress moving forward with the proposed amendment.
“I know there’s some mixed emotions going on with persons from their religious institutions. But for us as community activists, women, we are pleased and just hope that this goes and just doesn’t stay on anybody’s desk. And it’s presented and tabled and passed, because it’s been too long,” Ms. Moore said.
Ms Moore said she thinks it’s “ridiculous” that in this day and age, some religious leaders are still standing by such outdated views where women are seen as property.
“We’re just trying to make sure that women are protected within the marriage,” Ms Moore stressed.