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Posts Tagged ‘Marital Rape’

Submissions to MCYS on Women’s Charter

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

The Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sport is seeking feedback on proposed amendments to the Women’s Charter. Below is the submission made by No To Rape today.

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1. Background

1.1 No To Rape is a volunteer-led campaign calling for the total abolition of marital immunity for rape in Singapore. No To Rape seeks the complete repeal of Section 375(4) and Section 376A(5) of the Penal Code, so that all instances of non-consensual penetration of a woman’s vagina by a man’s penis constitute the offence of rape.

1.2 About 50 individuals from a range of racial and religious backgrounds have worked on No To Rape. The core team, responsible for management and funding, are Koh Wei Jie, Jolene Tan, Mark Wong and Wong Pei Chi. Opinions in this submission are those of the core team alone. Further information can be found at http://www.NoToRape.com/ and the core team can be contacted at notorape@gmail.com.

1.3 In 2009, No To Rape submitted to the Prime Minister a petition carrying more than 3,600 signatures by Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents in support of this legislative amendment. Notable signatories include:

1.3.1 Academics: Dr Kenneth Paul Tan, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy; Professor Chua Beng Huat, NUS Sociology Department; Professor Kumaralingam Amirthalingam, NUS Law Faculty.

1.3.2 Marriage counselors and social workers: David Blakely, President of the Singapore Association for Counselling; Benny Bong, President of the Society Against Family Violence.

1.3.3 Former NMPs: Kanwaljit Soin; Braema Mathi; Siew Kum Hong.

1.4 This petition was endorsed by the Association of Women for Action and Research and by MARUAH, the Singapore working group for an ASEAN human rights mechanism. A statement of support was also received from Trinity Theological College.

2. Submission

2.1 No To Rape welcomes the move by the Ministry to review the Women’s Charter and update the statutory and other legal provisions governing marital and other familial relations.

2.2 The Women’s Charter plays an important role in ensuring that situations of familial conflict are regulated to safeguard the security and well-being of all members of those families in Singapore that fall within its remit. (We note the exception of marriages between Muslims from the scope of the Charter.) In particular, it reflects an understanding of the position of physical vulnerability and economic dependence in which individuals may find themselves in relation to other family members, and of the corresponding need for robust state protection and legal recourse against familial abuse.

2.3 It is submitted that Section 375(4) and Section 376A(5) of the Penal Code should be repealed on the grounds that they undermine this important purpose, by creating immunity against criminal prosecution in the case of sexual violence perpetrated by men against their wives under specific conditions. These statutory provisions exempt non-consensual penetration by a man, with his penis, of a woman’s vagina, provided that the man and the woman are married to each other, unless certain limited conditions have been met (e.g. there has been an application for divorce, separation or a PPO, or a written separation agreement has been signed).

2.4 These provisions are inconsistent with the spirit of the Women’s Charter, which reflects the understanding that there exist difficult and unfortunate circumstances where, despite the existence of familial relations and the formal ties of marriage, a spouse may require the law to protect him or her from the abusive actions of his or her spouse. Neither these abusive actions nor their impact upon their victims are dependent on whether any application for divorce, separation or a PPO has yet been filed. Section 375(4) and 376A(5) deprive the police, the Ministry, the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the courts of Singapore of an important option when these agencies consider their response to such abuse.

2.5 In particular, as a result of Section 376A(5), marital immunity for rape applies even in the case of adult men who non-consensually penetrate their wives, where those wives are under the age of 16. In those cases, it is extremely likely that the wife lives under conditions of physical, economic and social vulnerability vis-à-vis her husband, and the expectation that she should take steps to apply for a divorce, separation or PPO before she qualifies for legal protection from violence is particularly burdensome and unrealistic.

2.6 International studies (such as those presented at the Ministry’s Family Violence Symposium of 2009) also indicate the prevalence of family abuse, including sexual abuse, against people with disabilities. The Ministry is urged to consider the particular impact of the requirements of Section 375(4) and 376A(5) (in terms of applying for divorce, separation or a PPO) on women with disabilities who experience sexual violence from their husbands.

2.7 Public opinion in Singapore is consistent with our recommendation. A 1993 report “Social Definitions of Family Violence in Singapore” by Choi, A. and Edleson, J L, surveyed the attitudes of 510 Singapore residents and found the following:

2.7.1 95% disapproved or strongly disapproved of the use of force by a husband if his wife refused to have sex.

2.7.2 74% considered having sex with one’s wife against her will to be assault. 93% considered assaulting one’s wife to be a crime.

2.7.3 69% considered having sex with one’s wife against her will to involve the ‘major’ use of force. An overwhelming majority — 83.8% — favoured police intervention (ranging from warning to charging to arresting the husband) in even a first-time ‘major’ assault.

2.7.4 Only 11.7% considered that judges should treat wife assaults less seriously than other personal assaults. 53.4% thought they should be treated equally seriously, and 34.6% thought wife assaults should be treated more seriously.

2.8 Where it is not possible to prove non-consensual penetration to the criminal standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ in a court of law, the exercise of prosecutorial discretion and/or judicial scrutiny is the appropriate mechanism for preventing any miscarriage of justice. By contrast, the existing statutory immunity is an unnecessary barrier to appropriate prosecutions and convictions even where the evidence is sufficient to meet that standard.

2.9 In addition, it is submitted that the proposed introduction of Section 12A presents a timely opportunity for further preventative action against sexual violence between spouses. The Ministry is urged to ensure that all marriage preparation courses completed in satisfaction of this new requirement equip the prospective couple with a thorough understanding of the importance of affirmative consent in any sexual activity within their marriage. Specifically, couples should be encouraged to recognise that:

2.9.1 Sexual activity should only take place when it is mutually and freely consented to by both spouses and in the absence of any coercion, whether this coercion takes physical, emotional, economic or other forms.

2.9.2 If one party is in doubt at any time as to the wishes or consent of their spouse regarding sexual activity, they should actively seek clarification.

2.9.3 Proceeding with sexual activity when one spouse has not given clear consent amounts to violence, which is punishable under the Penal Code.

2.9.4 A party who has been subjected to sexual violence from his or her spouse can seek help through applying for a PPO or making a police complaint. This is a valid self-protective measure to take, and should not be regarded as a betrayal, shame or failure.

2.10 It is noted that Section 12A is expected to apply, in particular, to marriages where at least one party is a minor (Consultation Paper). The recommendation in 2.9 above is particularly germane in view of the particular vulnerabilities of minor spouses discussed at 2.5 above.

3. Conclusion

3.1 It is submitted that the Women’s Charter (Amendment) Bill represents a timely opportunity to fully repeal Section 375(4) and Section 376A(5) of the Penal Code, so that all instances of non-consensual penetration constitute the offence of rape, in keeping with the humane and pragmatic purposes of the Women’s Charter.

3.2 Compulsory marriage preparation courses should emphasise the importance of affirmative consent in all sexual activity. This will promote better marital relations, help to prevent future sexual violence within marriages, and also better equip victims to seek timely assistance should such violence nevertheless occur.

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Please consider making a submission to MCYS in support of our proposals. You can do so through the REACH website until 24 October.

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Letter to Her World (February 2010)

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

By way of update, the No To Rape blog has been silent because the public petition drive has ended, but please be assured that we are continuing to work in other ways to push for the repeal of marital immunity for rape. Anyone who would like to be part of the team is more than welcome to get in touch.

For now, though, here is some wonderful news. You may remember that Her World ran an excellent article on marital rape last year, featuring interviews with women who had experienced marital rape and also the No To Rape campaign. One reader’s response to this article was published as a letter in the February issue of Her World. No To Rape wishes her friend the very best.

Sometimes life plays its own tune and forces us to dance on it. My closest friend is a victim of marital rape and when she was hospitalised after the traumatic episode; your issue came just in time.

I have no words to explain how much your article on Marital Rape helped her. We advised her that she should report this matter to the police but as usual she just turned a deaf ear. But, this article changed her perspective, so much so, that she called me instantly to ask if I could come with her to the police station. I am happy that she got an angel in Her World that changed her life remarkably.

I am short of words to explain the joy and sense of relief that I saw in her beautiful green eyes. Today, she gives credit of this grand success to your magazine. She recommends the magazine to everyone and loves it to the core. You guys, helped her sail through the tough and the harsh times.

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“Violence across all classes”

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Only the introduction is available online, but in the Straits Times today there is an article on domestic violence in Singapore. It emphasises that domestic violence affects people across all levels of education and income. According to the article, spousal abuse in which men hurt their wives in the privacy of their homes remains the most common form of family violence in Singapore.

The article also highlights the experiences of Ms Mary Tan, who for more than 30 years endured abuse at the hands of her husband, including frequent beatings and marital rape – once preceded by him forcing her to drink his urine.

Do get a copy of the Straits Times and read the full article if you have the chance.

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Wives under the age of 16

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

A letter by Associate Professor Chan Wing Cheong (who previously kindly spoke at the No To Rape seminar) has been published in the Straits Times Forum. It makes reference to the situation of wives under the age of 16:

The present law is inconsistent in that consensual sex with a girl under the age of 16 is a serious offence under the Penal Code, punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years and/or a fine, but it is not a criminal offence for a man to have sex with his wife who is at least 13 years old.

If we are concerned about the emotional and physical well-being of young girls engaging in sex, it cannot be right to allow men to have sex with their wives between the ages of 13 and 16, just because they are married to each other. The marriage will most likely have taken place with a foreigner overseas, where marriages with young brides are allowed.

Currently, Section 376A makes it an offence to have sex with any person under the age of 16, whether or not the minor expresses consent. Associate Professor Chan’s letter appears to question the retention of two separate exempions:

(1) Section 376A(4), which grants immunity from this offence when a girl under the age of 16 says “yes” to sex with her husband.

(2) Section 376A(5), which grants immunity from this offence, even in situations where a 13-, 14- or 15-year-old girl has said “no” to her husband.

The current No To Rape petition calls for the complete removal of Section 376A(5). (This is in no way an endorsement of Section 376A(4), which may also require further review.) If you believe that a man should not be able to force an unwilling 13-, 14- or 15-year old wife to have sex, please sign it today, and help to spread the word.

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Inadequacies in protection

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Dr Theresa Devasahayam of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies has written a letter to the Straits Times about family violence.

But the amended charter has its shortfalls. While it protects spouse, former spouse, child, stepchild, adopted child, parents, parents-in-law and any other relative or incapacitated individual who is regarded by the court as a member of the family, couples who live together are excluded.

If the Family Violence Bill was in place, courts would have protected even de facto or common law ‘marriages’ and not ignore them altogether.

The Women’s Charter has another defect. Only the victim can apply for a protection order. In reality, the victim often believes she cannot help herself and, as a result, fails to take any action to end the abusive relationship.

An advantage of the Family Violence Bill would have been that anyone who had reason to believe that family violence (including spousal violence) was being committed could apply for a protection order for the victim.

The Women’s Charter is flawed in another way. The amended charter makes it mandatory not only for the abuser but also the victim to undergo counselling. In contrast, the Family Violence Bill would have reserved mandatory counselling for the abuser only.

Clearly, family violence should be fought on many fronts, as is currently done. But legal reform is also critical to eradicate this social problem. The legal reforms in place to fight family violence are a step forward, but more can be done to ensure gender egalitarianism.

It is interesting to note that for many forms of family violence, as Dr Devasahayam points out, unmarried partners do not enjoy the same protections as married partners or formerly married partners. In the case of rape, conversely, women raped by their unmarried partners benefit from protection which is not extended to women raped by their husbands.

These inconsistencies reflect an incomplete picture of the reality of experiences of violence and suggest that legal public policy approaches need better rationalisation. All kinds of violence should be considered equally severe. At the same time, there are specific issues raised when dealing with forms of violence faced by people tied by shared daily lives and households – for example, an overarching dynamic of domination and control would not exist in a street fight between strangers, but would exist in a couple who lived together, whether or not they were married to each other. More social support might be needed in the second case, for the reasons that Dr Devasahayam puts forward. The recognition of this reality, as reflected in the Women’s Charter, strengthens the case for the abolition of marital immunity for rape.

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Her World interview available online

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Someone has kindly emailed us to let us know that the Her World feature on marital rape is now available online. Here is an excerpt:

Our marriage was on the rocks because I had just discovered that he had been cheating on me with different women for years. And his ongoing infidelity was slowly ripping us apart with frequent quarrels and scuffles.

One night, he started touching my body, as he always did when he wanted sex.

But sex was the last thing on earth I wanted at the time – I wasn’t even sure exactly how many women he had been with. So I pushed him away. He tried again. And I pushed him away again.

That was when he became frustrated. He climbed on top of me and pressed me down roughly. I struggled but he was stronger than me. He kissed me all over and started to force himself on me.

I was helpless.

When he was done, he simply rolled over to his side of the bed and went to sleep, leaving me feeling traumatised.

Do read the whole thing.

We also recommend getting a hard copy as the feature contains additional information, for example about international approaches to marital rape. It’s appropriate to reward Her World for their coverage of this important issues by buying their magazine.

p.s. Please consider leaving some supportive comments at the site, to encourage the brave woman who shared her story!

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Naming wrongs

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

We would like to thank the blog Barnyard Chorus for supporting No To Rape, with quite a few posts on the subject of marital immunity for rape. The latest quotes a legal discussion on human rights and argues that full legal recognition of marital rape is necessary for the humane treatment of women:

While disbelief and associated impunity reign, the violated are–systematically and effectively speaking–rendered not fully human legally or socially. When and where this denial is overcome the rights against the extreme and the normal are recognized, the treatment is defined as inhuman and the victims human.

[...] The reason why [opponents of No To Rape] make these arguments is that in their view there is no need for the law to treat the rape of women as the punishable violation of human beings.

We have acknowledged that the abolition of marital immunity alone will not address all the issues raised by marital rape, and the precise criminal justice responses that are appropriate upon conviction should be open for discussion. However, an adequate solution cannot be found unless there is first a complete and honest acknowledgement that marital rape is a wrong, which society – through the law – condemns as criminal.

Many victims of marital rape report an atmosphere of silence and suppression around their experiences, and at our Seminar social worker Benny Bong, President of the Society Against Family Violence, noted that the social denial of the rape and other domestic violence often amounts to further victimisation in and of itself. It is a refusal of the validity and legitimacy of the pain, and the sense of violation, that these women suffer. Little wonder one signatory on our petition has left a message saying that, in the face of the law as it stands, “As a woman myself, I do not feel respected by my country.”

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Marital rape and sex addiction

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Earlier this week, the New Paper reported on yet another woman’s account of marital rape:

“My feelings for him died and I didn’t want to have sex with him any more. But he never took no for an answer,” she said.

When she left the marital home, he called her repeatedly to cajole her to return home.

“He said he wanted me to come home to look after the children.

I told him that I would come home only if we had no more relations as husband and wife. He said okay,” she said.

But once she was home, he allegedly went back on his word and forced himself on her again and again. [...]

Lili said she told her husband repeatedly that she wanted a divorce.

But he never agreed to it and continued to force himself on her, she alleged. [...]

“I don’t want to go back to that way of life again, with him forcing himself on me whenever he felt like it. I’m desperate and depressed.”

The article, headlined “Evil hubby or sex addict?”, contains speculation as to whether the husband in question has an addiction to sex.

Committing rape is not in itself necssarily a sign of sex addiction, and someone need not be a sex addict in order to commit rape. The only thing required to become a rapist is the choice to commit rape: to disrespect the wishes of someone else regarding very sensitive areas of their body, and to force yourself upon them without their consent.

In our view, all diagnosed sex addicts – those who commit sexual violence, as well as those who do not – may require medical and other assistance to deal with their condition. At the same time, all rapists – those who are sex addicts, as well as those who are not – should be held accountable for the acts of violence they perpetrate by sexually penetrating unwilling victims.

It is unhelpful to divide those who commit rape into two supposedly exclusive groups of the “evil” and “sex addicts”. Some may be sex addicts, and those need help. But all commit an act of violence, and that act demands strong societal condemnation.

As we have argued before, the criminal law is not the only appropriate response to cases of marital rape, but it needs to be there as one step among many.

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Her World feature on marital rape

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Her World: November 2009.

November’s issue of Her World is now available at newsstands, and it includes an in-depth interview with a woman who was raped by her husband multiple times. We’re very glad that Her World has chosen to highlight this important issue. Do buy a copy!

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Women with disabilities and minor wives

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

MCYS has put out a press release which includes details of the National Family Violence Symposium held on Wednesday. One presentation makes particular reference to the position of people with disabilities in the United States (emphases ours):

Studies have long established that people with developmental or other disabilities are disproportionately victimized in the United States. One study found that among adults with developmental disabilities, as many as 83% of females and 32% of males are the victims of sexual assault. Perhaps most astonishingly, 97%-99% of abusers are known and trusted by these victims. Victimization rates for persons with disabilities is highest for sexual assault (more than 10 times as high) and robbery (more than 12 times as high).

There are a number of factors related to the susceptibility to abuse for individuals with disabilities. In addition, there are many existing significant barriers, both real and perceived, that affect vulnerable adults and their interaction with the criminal justice system. These barriers include societal perception of disability, use of appropriate language and current realities for adults and children with disabilities.

Under the Penal Code at the moment, marital rape is excluded from the definition of rape unless the victim had taken certain legal steps, including for example applying for a personal protection order, prior to the assault.

One of the arguments set out in our Petition is that the requirement of making applications for orders, injunctions etc. may be especially difficult to fulfil for minor wives and/or women with disabilities with abusive husbands who are adult and/or able-bodied. Such girls and women are likely to be in a position of dependence – economic, or physical, or both – which makes it much harder for them to cross the extra hurdles put in place before they can seek the protection of the criminal law.

We hope that MCYS and the government will pay close attention to the implications of the presentation for the Penal Code. The situation in the United States may not be directly comparable to the situation in Singapore. But if women with disabilities are especially likely to suffer sexual violence within the home, it becomes even more important that marital immunity for rape be completely abolished.

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