Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Senator the Hon. Carl Bethel was the key speaker in a panel discussion on ‘Marital Rape – Is It a Blow to Family Life,’ Tuesday evening at Bahamas Press Club’s Speaker’s Corner at JCN Studios. The Attorney General said: “Recently the question of passing a marital rape law has again been brought to the front burner of public discussion. The intervention of Ms. Simonovic, a UN envoy, who asserted that the passage of such a law was ‘the most important’ thing for the nation to address, reignited the public debate on this somewhat controversial issue. “It must be observed that the two opposing sides of this issue are deeply entrenched in their opposite views.
“There are members of civil society, who ardently advocate for the criminalization of sexual-based violence in a subsisting marriage as ‘rape’. [While] The status quo view is that marriage is a sacrament ordained by God; and that any criminalization of sexual-based violence, in the bonds of this sacramental relationship, is an “attack on the family.” Attorney General Bethel considered the status quo view an unwritten and unspoken covenant for the protected class, and that it was “entirely unsustainable, an offensive against reason and against a just and civil society.” He further stated: “Surely sexual assault in marriage is a greater attack against the family, as an institution…. The suggestion that within the sacrament of marriage, a spouse should become a ‘sexual slave’ is untenable.”
He used the example that if the situation were observed logically, “it perpetuates a situation, where a girlfriend or ‘partner’ has protection against sexual violence, but a wife does not. In everyday parlance, one could say that ‘the sweetheart has more protection than the wife’!” Subsequently, Bethel offered a remedy for the offense and relief for the victim of Marital Rape or Spousal Sexual Abuse in the form of a compromise. He said that the proposed amendment seeks to criminalize the elements of rape, within a marriage, as a variant of spousal abuse, and avoids the stigma of a rape charge. “A new re-draft to effect this proposed change has been prepared. The use of the word ‘aggravated’ to describe the offense has been dropped. Instead in a New Section 15A, as originally proposed, the new spousal sexual abuse offense (covering incidents in a subsisting marriage) has been added to the existing Section 15 of the Act,” said the Attorney General. “The time limitation for laying a complaint remains at one year; and the consent of the Attorney General, for the bringing of a criminal charge, remains. It was thought that having regard to the institution of marriage — more than a purely prosecutorial discretion, whether or not to lay charges against a spouse in a subsisting marriage, should be brought to bear.”
Attorney General Bethel posed the government’s position as neutral until further consultation with the public on the sensitive matter. “Let me emphasize however that this draft is a document which is submitted for consultation. The consensus opinion might differ, either as to the whole, or parts, of the draft Bill. What is clear, however, is that there will never be any consensus, as between the two extremes of the argument,” said the Attorney General. “The question is whether there can be any consensus on a draft Bill, which plainly seeks to strike a compromise between opposing views; which is consistent with the existing Law’s treatment of marriage-based sexual offences; and which seeks, at the end of the day, to provide protection to the vulnerable where, today, there is no legal protection whatsoever.”