It is sometimes claimed that because a woman expects to have sex with her husband, and has probably had sex with him before, marital rape is less traumatic, severe or reprehensible than other kinds of rape. This argument is used to justify marital immunity for rape.
Our FAQ points out that there is simply no evidence to support the idea that marital rape causes less distress than other kinds of rape. The impact of sexual violence on physical and psychological well-being depends very much on the individuals involved. The fact that some victims may recover sooner or more easily from an experience than others does not excuse the acts of those who rape.
Case law recognises that consensual sexual intercourse between perpetrator and victim prior to or after an incident of rape does not necessarily mean that the rape is less severe. In PP v Mohammed Liton Mohammed Syeed Malik, the court recognised that a pre-existing sexual relationship between victim and perpetrator was not automatically a mitigating or aggravating factor, but should be considered in all the circumstances of the case to determine its bearing on the seriousness of that case. Sometimes it has no significance at all. The same evidence-based approach should be taken with marital rape.
Rape is not simply a rougher version of ordinary, consensual, mutually respectful sex. It is experienced by its victim as an entirely different act – just as eating a good meal is entirely different from having the same food forced down your throat, or an enjoyable swim is entirely different from someone forcing your head underwater. Expecting to sometimes engage in mutual acts of intimacy with your husband cannot automatically make it less distressing when the same man violates, humiliates and dominates you against your will. The idea is wholly illogical.
The eloquent testimony of the victims featured in Get Rea! demonstrates that victims of marital rape may feel trapped, betrayed, frightened and violated. Both women interviewed feared for their health following the assaults, and one reported contracting a sexually transmitted infection from her husband. ‘Lily’ tells us how the husband who raped her “has cost me a lot. My personality, my life, my marriage, my wasted life.” Once you consider the reality of their experiences, the argument about degrees of violation appears very hollow indeed.
Thank you to the more than 2,600 who have put their names to our petition, including celebrated poet Lee Tzu Pheng. Signatory Jean Goh observes:
I have heard of friends who have been through many bouts of non-consensual sex with their husband and it was not pleasant for them at all. I believe that this is not to be taken lightly because these victims have nowhere to go for help, especially since the ones harming them are the same ones who have vowed before God to protect them and treat them well. I’ve heard that sex keeps the love alive in marriage, but I don’t think it even works if the man disregards the thoughts and feelings of his wife.
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Here is the episode of Get Rea!, hosted by Cheryl Fox, which focuses on marital rape and was first broadcast on 14 September on Channel News Asia. It features moving interviews with two women who have had personal experiences of marital rape, as well as No To Rape.
If you haven’t yet caught the Channel News Asia documentary on marital rape, you have a final chance tomorrow, at 5.30pm. No To Rape would like to offer a salute, with the deepest admiration, to those women who have bravely shared their experiences with the nation through this television programme. Your courage and generosity is amazing.
Thank you also to the now more than 2,500 of you who have signed the Petition. As always, many of your eloquent messages deserve to be highlighted here. Some, like this signatory, speak in a voice usually hidden from the world:
I believe in the institution of marriage. Current exceptions for marital is not enough to protect the woman. As someone who was once a victim and had to endure this quietly, I am definitely for the abolition of total rape immunity.
Social worker Hema Gurnani also sheds light on the reality of family violence:
I work in a VWO dealing with children and youth, age ranging from 3.5 – 20 years. I have been involved in social work for 12.5 years. During my work with children and youths I do interract with many parents, mostly women. It is indeed very sad to note that there are many women who suffer sexual viloence / abuse in silence because men tend to think that it is their marital right to have sex with his lawful wife with or without consent. Who is going to stop the abuse or protect the women of our country? I would think women deserve the right to choose, and be free of any sexual abuse.
Gregory Ng offers a clear, heartfelt statement from a male perspective:
this could affect the lives of our mothers, sisters and daughters. protect them like you would protect your own.
The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), which endorses No To Rape, has very kindly published a short opinion piece on marital immunity for rape penned by Jolene Tan, a core member of the No To Rape team. Do check it out!
p.s. Don’t forget to tune in to Channel News Asia today, at 8.30pm, to catch an episode of Get Rea! focusing on marital rape. If you can’t make it, don’t fret – there will be repeat broadcasts later this week.
No To Rape is pleased to note that David Blakely, marriage counsellor and President of the Singapore Association for Counselling, has signed the Petition, with the following statement:
As a marriage counsellor living in Singapore for the past 14 years, in my voluntary role as the President of the Singapore Association for Counselling, and as a father to two teenage daughters I believe it is important for us to give full legal protection by eliminating any and all immunities to the charge of marital rape. I’m confident that our justice system has the appropriate structures to prevent abuse of such a change.
We are very grateful for this kind support for the total abolition of marital immunity for rape.
We are pleased to announce the exciting news that Channel News Asia is airing a documentary on marital rape – and No To Rape will be featured. We know that the producers have been looking at the issue from many angles and expect it to be well worth watching.
Series 8, Episode 4 of Get Rea! will be first televised on Monday 14 September at 8.30pm with follow-up broadcasts at the following times:
Monday 14 September at 11.30pm Tuesday 15 September at 1.30pm Wednesday 16 September at 5.30pm
You can view full videos of the public seminar No To Rape organised on 7 August, but we are also extracting shorter segments that may be of particular interest.
Associate Professor Chan Wing Cheong of NUS Law Faculty responds to the question of whether falsely alleging marital rape would provide an advantage to women in divorce proceedings, saying “Generally, those kinds of allegations will not give any person advantage.”
Associate Professor Chan also addresses the claim that non-consent can only be adequately signalled by moving out and applying for one of the relevant legal orders cited in the exceptions to marital immunity for rape, saying: “Husbands should be given greater credit.”
Determinations of non-consent for the offence of sexual penetration under Section 376 are made on a case-by-case basis on the strength of the available evidence, without requiring any prior legal steps by the complainant. Why then should we accept a blanket rejection of all this evidence in cases of marital rape? Moreover, any rape is by definition carried out at close quarters. It should not be difficult to speak to someone who is right in front of you. If a husband has any reason at all to doubt that his wife is consenting to the act, for example because of her facial expression, it takes no more than half a second to verbally check.
Braema Mathi of MARUAH also shares a troubling anecdote about a woman who had been subject to physical abuse – an account including the very distressing detail that her vagina had been cut by her husband. She talks about the importance of having supportive people around to help an abused spouse come forward.