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Joint letter from No To Rape and AWARE

January 28th, 2013

Last week the Straits Times published a joint letter from No To Rape and AWARE, responding to recent Forum contributions on the subject of marital rape.

The argument in support of Section 375(4) of the Penal Code, which treats marital rape as an exception to rape save in certain circumstances, is that “sexual relations are to be expected in a marriage”.

We agree, but consent should still be a pre-condition.

Where an individual regularly refuses to have sex with her spouse, the correct remedy would be for the spouse to seek a divorce, rather than to force her to have sex.

Law enforcers and lawyers regularly examine evidence of rape in other contexts.

If marital rape immunity were entirely repealed, these agencies would just have to apply the same considerations to marital rape cases, which are currently automatically excluded regardless of the strength of evidence.

Click here to read the full letter.

It is also worth noting some of the arguments raised by Benjamin Joshua Ong in support of reform:

First, by making the lack of consent to sexual intercourse merely an aggravating factor to another criminal charge, the present legislation does not highlight that the harm arises from the very fact of sexual intercourse without consent, and not only from other concomitant incidents of violence.

Second, it neglects the need for accurate labelling of offences. The word “rape” has connotations that reflect the seriousness of the offence. Surely nobody would be satisfied if the law referred to murder as, say, “very serious assault”; it would simply not do justice to the sense of moral repugnance at the crime.

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A welcome parliamentary mention

February 28th, 2012

No To Rape strongly welcomes the remarks of Law Minister K Shanmugam and MP Vikram Nair, made in Parliament just over a week ago, regarding the possible abolition of marital immunity for rape. The Minister mentioned his meeting with No To Rape team members and described our goal as “worth looking into”.

Together with the repeal of Section 157(d) of the Evidence Act, this move would reflect a significant step towards ensuring that survivors of sexual violence are given the fair hearing that they deserve. Both measures would empower police, prosecutors and the courts to consider evidence of sexual violence on its own merits, rather than prejudicing the question by reference to the irrelevant sexual history of a complainant, such as whether she is married or had a prior sexual relationship with the accused.

We are also heartened by the strong positive response by members of the public to the Minister’s remarks. This is consistent with our experience over three years of working to end marital immunity for rape. We have received many messages of support from women and men of varying racial and religious backgrounds, including many who work in counselling and law. As survey results demonstrate, many in Singapore regard forced sex within marriage as an assault which should be taken seriously by the criminal law. The move discussed by the Minister is wholly in accord with society’s most fundamental shared values, which consider violence in any form and by any person to be severely unacceptable conduct.

Moreover, No To Rape applauds the call by Mr Abdul Mutalif Hashi, president of the Association for Devoted and Active Family Men, to educate men that “it is not right for husbands to demand sex”. We believe that no person, regardless of gender or marital relationship, has the right to demand sex from any other person. This belief is shared by many of our supporters, both women and men.

However, we believe that such education can and should be carried out in tandem with changes to the criminal law. As marriage guidance counsellor Osman Sidek has eloquently reasoned, even if marriage entails an obligation to have sex, this does not imply that there should be no limits on the action that a spouse can lawfully take to enforce this obligation. A husband who believes himself wrongfully deprived of sex should have recourse to counselling or the divorce courts, not to violence. The act of forcing an unwilling spouse to have sex is inherently violent and should be punishable under the Penal Code.

A warm thank you to MP Vikram Nair and the Law Minister for speaking up in favour of the full legal protection of all women against sexual violence. We call upon all persons of conscience, including MPs, Ministers, as well as members of the public, to give this move their fullest support

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No To Rape at SlutTalk (3 December)

November 28th, 2011

Many of you are probably aware of SlutWalk Singapore, the local chapter of the international movement against victim-blaming in rape cases and the common practice of “slut-shaming”, or judging and shaming people because of their sexuality or perceptions about their sexuality. To find out more about the ethos and aims of SlutWalk, which is frequently misunderstood, do read their brief FAQ.

In addition to the main SlutWalk taking place on 4 December, SlutWalk is hosting a range of related events to raise awareness about sexual violence. Wong Pei Chi of No To Rape will participate in SlutTalk, a series of workshops, talks and discussions taking place all afternoon and evening at the Substation on 3 December. Together with Dr. Ingrid Hoofd and Alex Serrenti, she will be part of a roundtable discussion about victim-blaming and advocacy around sexual violence, titled “Challenging Complicities” and organised by Singapore Queer-Straight Alliance. It begins at 6pm.

There are many other events going on which may be of interest: see the full listing here.

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Welcome change to Evidence Act

November 27th, 2011

No To Rape strongly welcomes the decision announced by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, Mr K Shanmugam, to repeal Section 157(d) of the Evidence Act. This provision states that in legal proceedings “when a man is prosecuted for rape [...] it may be shown that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character” in order to impeach the credibility of the rape complainant. (See previous AWARE article on this issue here).

The Minister stated the reasons for the repeal at the recent official launch of AWARE’s Sexual Assault Befrienders Service, an important specialised service providing support to those who have experienced sexual assault. He described his consultation with civic groups including No To Rape and AWARE on the matter of rape complaint procedures, and pointed out that Section 157(d) rests on two “antediluvian and repugnant” “myths” which “should [not] find any expression in our laws”. Namely, that:

a) a woman who is sexually experienced is less credible as a witness; and
b) a woman who is sexually experienced is more likely to have consented to sexual activity.

The Minister went on to state:

The approach we should take to this, whether it is a man or a woman – matters relating sexual history, just like a man who has been previously accused, whether that should or should not be taken into account – sexual history of either party can only be taken into account if it is relevant for that particular case. So, we really ought to leave it to the courts. Neither should we say it is completely irrelevant. It really depends on the facts, and it cannot just be the woman. That must be the right approach.

Like all other evidence, matters relating to a victim’s sexual history must satisfy the threshold of relevance before they can be introduced, rather than as dictated by Section 157(d).

No To Rape welcomes this as an improvement over the status quo, although we believe further consideration should be given to the possibility that the sexual history of the complainant will never satisfy a rational threshold of relevance, and should therefore be considered inadmissible in all cases.

In addition to this, however, No To Rape believes that the logic articulated by the Minister also requires the abolition of marital immunity for rape. Under the Penal Code as it stands, in the absence of proceedings for divorce, separation, an injunction or a personal protection order, the existence of a marital relationship is not only considered automatically relevant to rape cases. It goes a step further, to automatically determine the result: there can be no conviction. The individual facts of the case cannot be considered by the court under a rape charge, even if there is clear evidence of (for example) accompanying violence, leading to injury, or forms of physical restraint, or corroborative third party testimony, that would point strongly toward a finding of non-consent to sexual intercourse.

No To Rape congratulates the Ministry on the decision regarding the Evidence Act, and urges it to build upon this progress by also repealing Sections 375(4) and 376A(5) of the Penal Code.

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Book launch of “Nightingale Songs”

November 20th, 2011

AWARE is organising a book launch this Friday for Nightingale Songs, described as “the first comprehensive documentation of the experiences of domestic violence survivors in Singapore”.

In Nightingale Songs, survivors of domestic violence share their personal stories. Professionals like counsellors also discuss their involvement in this challenging field and what their experiences have taught them. The diversity of stories in the book shows that this social problem is not limited to any particular class or ethnic group, but cuts across the boundaries of race, religion, education and socio-economic status.

The launch will be accompanied by a discussion panel including survivors of domestic violence and professionals who work with survivors. The event is free but online registration is required.

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“Two Views of Rape”: Guest post on SlutWalk Singapore

October 22nd, 2011

SlutWalk Singapore is holding a series of events to combat sexual violence in Singapore and the social attitudes that often prevent rape survivors from being taken seriously when they speak about their experiences. No To Rape has contributed a guest blog post on marital rape to the SlutWalk site.

Some rapes, the law says, don’t really count.

To understand this, we need to recognise that there are broadly two, incompatible, ways of looking at rape.

The first takes seriously the fundamental right of all people to the ownership of their bodies. There are no exceptions. Every person, of any gender or marital status and regardless of anything in their character or personal history, has a right to the absolute final say on what, if anything, is put into their bodies. A rapist’s physical acts are a forcible assertion of the right to make this decision for someone else. This is inherently violent, even if there are no further blows (though there often are). Rape is best thought of not as “sex gone wrong”, but as a beating, carried out with a sexual organ rather than a fist. This point of view is championed by – among others – No To Rape, the campaign to abolish marital immunity for rape in Singapore.

Click through to read the rest of the post, as well as the many other perspectives offered by a diverse range of bloggers.

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No To Rape members are AWARE’s 2011 Young Wonders

October 22nd, 2011

We are very honoured that AWARE has chosen Jolene Tan and Wong Pei Chi, two No To Rape core team members, as its Young Wonders for 2011. As we stressed at the time of the nomination, these awards have been made because of the work of the entire No To Rape team, and its many supporters and volunteers, in seeking the complete repeal of marital immunity for rape. No To Rape would like to thank AWARE for its support of our continuing work to combat sexual violence in the home.

Below is a video interview of Wong Pei Chi, speaking about the importance of addressing marital rape and the support that the campaign has received.

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The Church’s Response to Violence in the Home: a seminar at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church

September 26th, 2011

On 7 August 2011, Mr Benny Bong, a Family and Marital Therapist, and a speaker at No To Rape’s 2009 seminar, facilitated a seminar on “The Church’s Response to Violence in the Home”. This seminar was held at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, which Mr Bong is a member of. Dr Ngiam Tee Liang, a Professor in the NUS Department of Social Work, moderated the session.

Mr Bong presented statistics from the Society Against Family Violence – National University of Singapore (SAFV-NUS) study on the prevalence of Violence Against Women, which, in 2009, surveyed a random sample of women in Singapore. 9.2% of survey respondents indicated that they had been a victim of physical and/or sexual violence. There was no overrepresentation of family violence by race or religion, although anecdotal data suggested that Indian victims of family violence are more likely to seek help compared to victims of other races, thus giving the impression that family violence is a bigger problem in the Indian community. Interestingly enough, a disproportionate number of victims had university and post-graduate qualifications, which goes against the notion that better educated women are less prone to experience partner abuse.

Mr Bong stated that spousal violence is, without exception, against Christian values. He then showed some statistics on responses that pastors in the US gave to their members about how they counselled wives of abusive husbands. In this example, 26% of respondents said they would tell the victims to continue to submit to their husbands, 25% of respondents implied that abuse was the victim’s fault, and 50% said the victim should be willing to tolerate some level of violence because it is better than divorce. Mr Bong said that these responses place victims at great risk and discouraged them from seeking help. He emphasised that the safety of the victim should take precedence over all other concerns; people who are currently propagating unhelpful views about domestic violence should stop the three traditional responses of denial, minimization and blame, and support victims’ rights instead.

He also discussed the difficulty of identifying victims in the first place, especially victims of psychological violence without physical violence, and suggested that the best way to get them to come forward is to proactively reach out to women in the community, for instance by handing out pamphlets on domestic violence, so that victims will realise that help is available.

Regarding the issue of pre-marital counselling as a way to reduce incidence of violence in marriages, Mr Bong said that the Syariah Court mandates pre-marriage classes for couples who intend to enter Muslim marriages, and the syllabus includes how to have better communication and conflict resolution. However, for civil marriages, pre-marital counselling is not compulsory. Thus, the only organisations which can require couples to attend pre-marital counselling are religious organisations. Mr Bong mentioned that many churches require their members to go through pre-marriage classes if they want to get married by the pastor in the church, but these classes often do not deal with domestic violence.

Mr Bong concluded by saying that the Church should provide protection to domestic violence victims by telling victims that they do not deserve to be badly treated and admonishing perpetrators to stop using violence. There should also be provision for the practical needs of victims by working with community agencies such as police and shelters. Finally, more work needs to be done to reach out to victims in some churches who may face lack of support from their church leaders and congregation.

If you or someone you know are at risk of, or are experiencing domestic violence, help is available. The AWARE website contains resources (including details of a helpline and support service) for those facing abusive relationships and/or rape and sexual assault. Information on free legal clinics in Singapore is available here.

No To Rape would like to thank Kampong Kapor Methodist Church for inviting the team to the seminar.

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No To Rape recognised in AWARE Awards nominations

September 23rd, 2011

We’re very pleased and honoured to announce that two No To Rape team members, Jolene Tan and Wong Pei Chi, have been nominated for the youth category of the first AWARE Awards. This nomination is a recognition of all the work that every team member and supporter has put into abolishing marital immunity for rape in Singapore.

No To Rape would also like to offer our congratulations to all the nominees for the AWARE Awards, including in particular Associate Professor Chan Wing Cheong and Benny Bong of the Society Against Family Violence, who have both been speakers at No To Rape events and have done a great deal of invaluable work to address the problem of sexual violence.

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Help for rape victims

August 14th, 2011

If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual assault, at the hands of a spouse or anyone else, help is available to you. AWARE has put together some useful information explaining what medical and other services are available, and what can be done to assist the police in investigating the case. (A PDF information sheet can be found here.) AWARE also runs a confidential, specialised Sexual Assault Befrienders Service which you can contact by phone or email if you need to talk about sexual assault.

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