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Archive for July, 2009

One step among many

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

The abolition of marital immunity for rape will not resolve all issues relating to marital rape. Far from it. Many other interventions are needed. Counselling, mediation, medical help and the civil law all have a part to play in responding to incidents, and education and a wider national conversation are needed to build a culture where all are conscious of the importance of seeking and communicating consent when engaging in sexual activity.

Even where convictions are obtained, there is dispute over the measures that should result. Hauling perpetrators to prison or meting out strokes of the cane may not always be appropriate for the circumstances, and will never by themselves do away with sexual violence. Restorative justice measures such as victim-offender mediation and mandatory behavioural therapy for offenders may often be more constructive than purely punitive responses.

However, the change we propose to the Penal Code is one vital step among many. Recognising that marital rape is equal to other forms of rape in harm and culpability does not end the story. Rather, it opens up possibilities for dialogue on what to do next. The Penal Code would send an unequivocal statement: this form of violence and wrongdoing has no place in society. Whatever your greviances with your spouse, you must not violate their bodily integrity, but resolve them through peaceful means. It also says: if your spouse is physically abusing you, this is not something you need to tolerate. Under no circumstances do you deserve this. If you suffer it, and you wish to speak up, we will take you seriously, rather than write this off as a lovers’ tiff.

At the moment, the law denies that marital rape happens, or pretends it is acceptable, or characterises it as a personal dispute in which parties are both, somehow, murkily responsible – rather than seeing it as being, like beating your wife or husband, a completely intolerable method of resolving disagreements. The law as it stands does not identify a victim and a perpetrator and so cannot communicate vindication and censure.

This petition is not primarily about harsh punishment, though we believe greater crimes should carry more burdensome punishments and lesser crimes lesser ones (for example, non-consensual penetration should be treated more severely than unwanted stroking). The possibility of conviction, and thus the societal condemnation inherent in criminal law, matters. When, in a counselling session or mediation for example, the counsellor or mediator is able to identify certain forms of behaviour as not only undesirable or unwise or unpleasant but criminal, this has greater gravity.

The reform we advocate crystallises a social understanding that the act of rape is a breach of the basic standards which make it possible to live side by side with others in society.

No To Rape does not pretend that this will solve all problems. However, it is one important part of our societal response, a part which is critical to establishing a footing for other parts. Unless and until we name rape for what it is – as long as we deny what actually happens – how can we hope to adequately address it?

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Towards Criminalising Marital Rape: A Public Seminar

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

No To Rape is very pleased to announce, and to welcome you to, Towards Criminalising Marital Rape: A Public Seminar, organised with the kind assistance of SMU Law Society.

Do you want to know what domestic violence in Singapore is really like? Are you interested in how to make the No To Rape objective a legislative reality? Or would you like to put your doubts about and disagreements with No To Rape to the experts? This is your chance.

Look no further than the Seminar on 7 August from 6.30pm. Hear from – and direct your questions to – Dana Lam (AWARE), Benny Bong (Society Against Family Violence), Chan Wing Cheong (NUS Law Faculty), Braema Mathi (MARUAH) and former NMP Siew Kum Hong.

More details, as well as a registration form, can be found here. Spaces are limited, so please do register!

DISCLAIMER: SMU Law Society and SMU support hosting and discussing the subject of marital rape and its legal immunity, but the content of this website reflects the views of No To Rape and does not necessarily reflect the views or policy of SMU Law Society and its greater establishment.

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Campaign Action: write to the press

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Remember our Campaign Actions? Every fortnight, we post a new suggestion for something you can do to be even more effective at promoting the No To Rape message. Two weeks ago we asked you to write to your MP.

The current No To Rape Campaign Action is:

Write to the press. We suggest writing to any publication you read regularly, whether it’s a newspaper like The Straits Times, Today, Lianhe Zaobao, Berita Harian, Tamil Murasu, or The Business Times; or a magazine; or a newsletter for your school or workplace or club or association.

Tell them that you think marital immunity for rape should be abolished, and why.

Your letter will have more impact if you use your own words. Feel free to use the FAQ the Resources in the Promote section for information or ideas.

If you’re not sure what to say, here are a few possibilities:

- At the moment, except in limited circumstances, a man who forces sex upon his wife cannot be charged for rape. This is wrong and should change because rape is violence, and spousal violence is not acceptable.

- In August is the 10th anniversary of the hearing for PP v N, a case where a man tied his wife up, gagged her and forced intercourse upon her. He could not be charged for rape. A decade later, even with changes to the law in 2007, the result would be the same.

- Marital rape happens. Signatories on the No To Rape petition have spoken of their personal experiences as victims, or their work with victims.

- Are you of a particular faith? Mention that marital immunity for rape is not supported by your religious values.

- Marital immunity does not apply to non-consensual anal or oral sex, so the police and the law are prepared to investigate non-consent in the context of marriage. They should do so in relation to all forms of sexual violence.

Please send us your letters too, and let us know if you have responses. The more we share, the more effective we’ll be.

Thank you for promoting humane standards of treatment for women in Singapore.

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People Against Violence, Not Women Against Men

Monday, July 27th, 2009

No To Rape does not pit women against men. It is a petition created for and supported by many different people, against violence against any person. It has united women and men, people of a range of racial and religious backgrounds, married and unmarried, young and old – a variety of individuals from all walks of life.

Everyone hopes to trust their spouse when they enter into marriage. The only question here is what the criminal law should do when that trust has been greviously breached through the destructive and violent actions of one party – ignore the wrong, or provide redress? Even if the legal ties of marriage remain, the underlying relationship of respect and love has been severely damaged by sexual violence. The family bonds have, effectively, been repudiated by the rapist through the act of rape.

As an early comment on our blog makes clear, marital rape has a negative impact not only on the women who experience it and spousal relationships, but also sometimes on any children who are affected by their mother’s suffering:

I used to counsel other students of my age who came from dysfunctional families. In some of these cases, they spoke to me about their mother’s agony, sometimes arising out of rape and other forced physical conduct that often accompanies rape.

No To Rape supports laws that criminalise all kinds of non-consensual sexual penetration equally, regardless of the gender of the victim or that of the perpetrator (as is the case with Section 376 of the Penal Code, which contains no marital exemption – see FAQ). It is marital immunity for rape which creates an inequality, since it specifically denies the full protection of the law in cases of penile-vaginal rape committed by men against women in the context of marriage, and only those cases. By seeking to change that, we are calling for protection of all people against non-consensual penetration of any kind.

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AWARE supports No To Rape

Monday, July 27th, 2009

We are pleased to let you know that AWARE has announced its support of No To Rape. AWARE has worked for many years on promoting gender equality in Singapore, and we are very grateful for their endorsement.

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Bringing people together

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

To those who have signed the petition, our warmest thanks. We are pleased to note that in your ranks are Benny Bong (President of the Society Against Family Violence), writer Yong Shu Hoong, national swimmer Thum Ping Tjin and Associate Professor Paul Ananth Tambyah of NUS. We’re really pleased that so many different people have come together to show support for this cause.

Every single signatory brings us closer to abolishing marital immunity for rape. We now stand at over 1,300 in just a few short weeks – but there’s still some distance to go. Please tell a friend about No To Rape today.

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Sex is mutual. Rape is violence.

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Over at Trapper’s Swamp, a really well-argued blog post about marital rape (emphases from original post):

The author claims that should the laws be repealed, ‘there is now no legal grounds left for the man to actually obtain sex from his wife’. This draws a couple of questions: why do we need legal justification for sex, and is sex the main reason for two persons to get married?

My answer to both questions is ‘No‘. Requiring legal justification for sex in marriage is ridiculous, and arguing that the marital rape immunity clauses remain in the Penal Code because of that is even worse. If legal grounds for sex is the only way a man can get to have sex with his wife (or vice-versa), there are bigger issues at play in that marriage. And if sex is the main reason to get married, then the ‘institution of marriage’ is doomed.

In a healthy marriage, I think it’s natural for couples to show affection for each other in various ways, including sex. There is give and take, understanding and compromise, commitment and communication. The sex will follow.

Consensual sex can be one of the ways in which spouses bond with each other. When mutually desired, it is frequently an intimate activity which may enhance a marital relationship.

The No To Rape petition has nothing to do with situations where married adults have mutually consensual sex to show affection for each other, to conceive children, or for any other purpose. It is concerned only with how we respond in cases where a woman has not consented to sex, and her husband penetrates her against her wishes – cases like PP v N.

In those circumstances, the woman does not experience the act as intimacy, or as sharing, or as a way to increase feelings of closeness between the couple. What she experiences is an act of violence.

Acts of violence are not part of what society values about marriage. Acts of violence hurt marriages and those within them. By condoning such acts, marital immunity for rape does not strengthen the institution of marriage, but rather undermines it.

(See our FAQ on this, too!)

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Thank you to MARUAH Singapore

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

No To Rape is very grateful to MARUAH Singapore, the Singapore working group for an ASEAN human rights mechanism, for supporting the repeal of marital immunity for rape. On its website, MARUAH Singapore states:

MARUAH (Singapore Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism) would like to extend its fullest support to the ongoing petition to protect spouses against marital rape.

Raping one’s spouse is an act of violence that is in gross violation of his or her human rights. Marriage should not grant one the ability to abuse one’s spouse through non-consensual sexual activity.

As we’ve just discussed, this petition is about the right to protection from violence – one of the most basic and universally agreed rights ever articulated. There can be only the most limited justifications for violence done by one citizen to another – self-defence, for instance. And there can be no justification for rape.

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What is at stake

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

No To Rape does not agree that marriage entails a moral obligation to be sexually available to one’s spouse at all times. But immunity for marital rape is unjustifiable even if we are wrong about that. Whatever disputes a married couple has – including over sex – rape is an act of violence which no circumstances can justify or excuse. Even if someone is 100% at fault in a disagreement, society should not allow the other person to rape them. Everyone should be protected from violence.

However frustrated someone may be if their spouse’s sexual inclinations do not match their own, they always have a choice about how to respond. A husband who is dissatisfied can talk things through. He can seek professional counselling. He can be less than constructive without ever committing violence against anyone: he can smash a dish, he can ignore his wife, he can make malicious remarks. The law doesn’t intervene in such behaviour.

As long as he doesn’t choose to commit rape, he won’t become a rapist.

What’s at stake here is what society does when someone chooses – out of all the many options for how they can respond to a situation – to violently hurt their spouse in one of the most distressing and disabling ways possible.

This is the reality of what we are dealing with. In the case of Public Prosecutor v N (facts here) a man threatened to kill his wife if she divorced him. He slapped her, tied and gagged her and then raped her. He was charged for the threat to kill her, for slapping her, and for tying and gagging her, but marital immunity meant that a charge could not be brought for the most serious act: that of rape.

The 10th anniversary of the case looms (it was decided in October 1999). Slapping, tying, gagging, threatening – all these are recognised, and punished, as violence. The pain, intrusion and humiliation of rape is erased. The law looks an act of violence straight in the face and denies that any wrong was done.

What is at stake is whether we acknowledge experiences like those of this signatory, and whether we openly and firmly declare our censure of it – or whether we demand that she and those like her never speak:

I was a victim of this crime when my husband at that time hit me and then demanded sex. All I could do was cry and submit and then forever remain silent.

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Public Prosecutor v N: facts

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

The legal judgment in the marital rape case of Public Prosecutor v N [1999] 4 SLR 619, which we have referred to several times in the FAQ, is dated 26 August, 1 October 1999. In August this year is the 10th anniversary of that first date – and the issues raised in the case remain as important as ever. Here is the summary of the facts in the legal judgment.

On 18 August 1998, while the respondent was away on overseas training, he paged for her. She responded to his paging and contacted him by telephone. In the course of the conversation, an argument ensued over the payment of his handphone bill. When the wife suggested that they get a divorce, the respondent was very upset and angry. He threatened to kill her if she dared to leave him. The wife was very frightened and she believed that he would carry out his threat upon his return from his training in less than three weeks’ time. This was because he spoke in a very fierce manner and he had on previous occasions behaved violently towards her.

Upon the respondent’s return to Singapore on 4 September 1998, he asked the wife to meet him, promising that they would have a peaceful talk. During a discussion at the void deck at Blk 410 Serangoon Central later in the evening, the respondent and the wife quarrelled again. He dragged her into his car and drove her back to their house at Rivervale Road. Upon arrival, he ordered her to go to their apartment bedroom. To avoid a scene, she did as she was told. He followed her into the bedroom and locked the door after them.

The wife was seated on the bed when the respondent hugged her. When she struggled to free herself, he turned violent and forcibly stripped her of her clothes. He then used a bath towel to tie her hands together and used another piece of cloth to gag her. Thereafter, he proceeded to engage in sexual intercourse with her against her will.

After that, he helped her to put on her pair of shorts and panties before untying her. He then took out a blouse which he had bought for her and told her to put it on. She resisted. This was followed by another physical struggle by her which ended with his slapping her across her face. When the respondent had calmed down, the wife told him that she wanted to go back to her parents’ place. The respondent agreed and drove her back to Serangoon Central.

The man in this case was not charged or convicted of rape, but only of much lesser charges relating to the other aggressive behaviour, carrying far less severe penalties than those associated with rape.

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