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?