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Posts Tagged ‘Marital Rape’

Joint letter from No To Rape and AWARE

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If marital rape immunity were entirely repealed, these agencies would just have to apply the same considerations to marital rape cases, which are currently automatically excluded regardless of the strength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

Tuesday, 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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Welcome change to Evidence Act

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

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

Monday, 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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Help for rape victims

Sunday, 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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Marital rape and CEDAW

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Singapore is a party to the Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international treaty, and as a result the state regularly reports to the United Nations CEDAW Committee. This happened most recently in July 2011. Various NGOs including AWARE also submitted shadow reports to the Committee. AWARE’s report includes the following references to marital rape and No To Rape:

19.23 Singapore’s Fourth Periodic Review to CEDAW 2008 highlights the amendment to the Penal Code that has criminalized forced sex on a spouse under certain circumstances, e.g. in cases where a Personal Protection Order (PPO) was issued against the offending spouse. While a step in the right direction, it is submitted that this does not go far enough. In fact, the CEDAW Committee’s Concluding Comments voiced some concern for the recognition of marital rape as a crime in such ‘narrowly defined circumstances’.

19.24 AWARE, in its previous shadow report discussed this discriminatory provision that denies all married women full recourse for the criminal offence of rape merely by virtue of the fact that her husband is the perpetrator. The amendment that came into force in February 2008 clearly does not go far enough as many women might not be aware or able to get PPOs, and therefore effectively these women will have no legal recourse. It is time that protection and recourse to rape be provided for all women irrespective of marital status.

19.25 In December 2009, a petition with 3,609 signatures was submitted to the Prime Minister’s office by the ‘No To Rape’ online petition coordinator, a group of ‘concerned Singaporeans who have come together for the single purpose of promoting change on this issue.’

The United Nations Committee has considered the submissions of the government and NGOs and issued a statement, which also includes remarks on marital rape:

The Committee expresses its concern at the persistence of violence against women in the State party, in particular, domestic and sexual violence, which remains, in many cases, under-reported. While welcoming the amendments to the Penal Code in 2008 on the criminalization of rape of a spouse, the Committee is concerned that it only applies when the perpetrator and the victims are living apart and are in process of termination of their marriage, and if the victim applied for a personal protection order.

The Committee urges the State party to:

(a) Review its Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code in order to specifically criminalize domestic violence and marital rape, and ensure that the definition of rape covers any non-consensual sexual act;

(b) Provide mandatory training for judges, prosecutors and the police on the strict application of legal provisions dealing with violence against women and train police officers on procedures to deal with women victims of violence;

(c) Encourage women to report incidents of domestic and sexual violence, by de- stigmatizing victims and raising awareness about the criminal nature of such acts;

(d) Provide adequate assistance and protection to women victims of violence, by strengthening the capacity of shelters and crisis centres, and enhancing cooperation with NGOs providing shelter and rehabilitation to victims; and

(e) Collect statistical data on domestic and sexual violence disaggregated by sex, age, nationality and relationship between the victim and perpetrator.

No To Rape welcomes AWARE’s and the Committee’s call to change the law so that all women enjoy protection from sexual violence regardless of their marital status or their relationship with the perpetrator.

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Competing visions of marriage in Islam

Friday, June 24th, 2011

In response to the recent news about a possible Singaporean branch of the Obedient Wives Club, Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib has written an interesting article on competing visions of marriage in Islam. In it he discusses their implications for various issues including marital rape. The first vision he discusses is traditionalist:

…marriage is primarily seen not as a fulfillment of mutual love and respect, but as a set of duties and obligations. The man, as the absolute leader of the family, is entitled to absolute obedience from the woman. Any form of denying or subverting the authority of the husband may constitute nushuz (‘rebellion’).

This, inadvertently, includes the authority and right for men to demand sex, even if she refuses.

Such writings, which advocate the absolute submission of wives, are by no means rare. They form part of the episteme of traditionalist Islam. The popularity of books like Tohfa-e-Doulhan (Gift For The Bride), sold in local bookstores, obviously latches on to this dominant orientation as much as it seeks to entrench patriarchy through religious discourse. This is the crisis of traditionalist thought in Muslim jurisprudence.

He contrasts this to the views of many thinkers among Muslims all over the world, who understand Islam to promote an “egalitarian message”:

A notable Muslim jurist, Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, brilliantly dissected such problems in contemporary Muslim discourse on gender in his book, Speaking In God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority & Women (2001).

Scholars like him have identified the prevalence of the language of ‘obedience’ as an example of how the Muslims’ religious discourse on gender is in serious need of reform. This is a task that has been undertaken by contemporary reformists such as Ziba Mir Hosseini (Iran), Asma Barlas (USA), Riffat Hassan (Pakistan), Farid Esack (South Africa), Asghar Ali Engineer (India), KH. Hussein Muhammad (Indonesia), Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt), Fatima Mernissi (Morocco) and countless others.

In their progressive interpretation of Islam, a woman’s ‘obedience’ is owed directly to God as a principle of tawheed (monotheism), and not via ‘obedience’ to the male/husband.

They also highlighted that marriage is based on the equality of men and women, and, as specified in the Qur’an, “so that you may dwell in tranquility” and develop “deep feelings of love and mercy” (Q.30:21). Furthermore, roles and responsibilities are to be negotiated in mutual trust and respect, and are not pre-determined by God.

What is important is that their vision is grounded in the same sacred sources of the Qur’an and Hadith (prophetic traditions). Unfortunately, these perspectives have often been neglected and sometimes outright rejected in the name of an ossified and fossilised ‘Islam’.

The recent sensational news about the formation of the OWC provides an opportunity to open up discussion about one of the most taboo topics in public discourse – sex in marital life.

For reform-minded gender activists, this is the time to seize the moment and correct centuries-old assumptions about gender roles and relations – from issues of reproductive rights, inheritance law to marital rape.

It is also an opportunity to highlight the limits of traditionalist thought in properly diagnosing social issues and problems. For Muslims in particular, it is time for critical self-reflection, for reclaiming the egalitarian message of Islam, and for repositioning women as equally dignified partners in all spheres of life, marital relations included. It is time for a new gender discourse to take shape in the community.

It is also worth noting the statement of Muis (dated 17 June 2011) in response to the Obedient Wives Club (emphasis added by us):

Muis disagrees with the basis or objectives of the aforementioned Club as reported by the media.

The Club’s view that a satisfying sex life is the main solution to solving marital and social problems in the community is one that is myopic, and does not accurately portray the complexity of the problems faced by married couples. Such simplistic view is in fact demeaning to women and the institution of marriage and family which are held in high esteem in Islam.

[...] Happiness in a marriage goes beyond receiving sexual fulfillment from one’s wife. The Prophet himself (Peace be upon him) taught Muslims to engage in spousal sexual relations in a manner that is full of love and respect towards each other. This is because sexual relations are a form of ibadah (blessed deed in Islam) which requires consent and willingness from both parties.

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Getting a Personal Protection Order (PPO)

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

No To Rape calls for all instances of marital rape to be treated as “rape” under the Penal Code (or “sexual penetration of a minor”, where the victim is under 16). At the moment, this only happens if the victim has previously made applications for certain orders against their spouse. One of these is the Personal Protection Order (PPO).

AWARE have put together a helpful guide on PPOs which tells you where you can apply for them and what to do if they are not followed. Although you do not need a lawyer for a PPO, there is also advice on who you can contact if you do need legal help.

If you believe you (or anyone in your family) is at threat of violence from another family member (including your spouse), or a family member (including your spouse) has already committed violence against you (or another family member), it can be helpful to seek a PPO to deter further violence. You can access the AWARE guide by clicking here.

It is not always possible to tell in advance whether a spouse will commit violence, including sexual violence. Protection should be provided against all acts of abuse, foreseen or unforeseen. No To Rape believes the law should be changed so that no application for a PPO is necessary to treat marital rape as rape. With the law as it stands, however, the marital rape exemption is an additional reason why PPOs need to be made as easily accessible as possible, and we thank AWARE for making this useful information available.

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MCYS response and No To Rape’s reply

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

[Edited on 17 March 2011 to add: A reader has pointed out that No To Rape incorrectly addressed Ms Rahayu Buang of MCYS as “Ms Buang” rather than “Ms Rahayu” in our reply. We are sorry for this error and have emailed Ms Rahayu to apologise. Many thanks to the blog visitor for pointing out our mistake.]

In October 2010 No To Rape made a submission to the Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sport’s consultation on proposed amendments to the Women’s Charter. We reiterated our call for the complete repeal of Sections 375(4) and 376A(5) of the Penal Code, and also submitted that compulsory marriage preparation courses should emphasise the importance of affirmative consent in all sexual activity.

In November 2010 we received the below response from the Ministry. The reply that we sent them today is also reproduced below.

To date, given the absence of any reply to the original petition from the Prime Minister’s Office, this is the fullest statement that we have from the government on the issue of marital rape. No To Rape is continuing to work at a grassroots level to conduct research and build community report for legislative change. If you would like to be involved, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

Click here to read the MCYS response and our reply

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