ANTIGUA & BARBUDA- Across the Caribbean, the issue of rape and its legal consequences has been in the spotlight, and the conversation has gained momentum in Antigua and Barbuda.
There has been widespread concern expressed about the lack of clarity and the lack of distinction in the laws surrounding rape and other forms of sexual assault despite the type of relationship between two parties whenever there is such a relationship.
However, there still exists a sentiment among some people, especially among those who hold strong religious beliefs, that a wife cannot refuse to engage in sexual activity with her husband. Some have questioned how evidence could be gathered to prove that a husband attempted non-consensual sexual contact with his wife, or was successful in engaging in it.
Senator Bakesha Francis-James, an independent senator and strong advocate of women’s rights, supports the criminalization of marital rape in its present form.
In her opinion, no matter whether a country is a Christian society or if it practices Biblical doctrine to a certain degree within its own culture, rape should be illegal regardless of the country’s status.
“I agree that it should be considered a criminal offense. Let’s face it, rape is rape whether you are married or not. Although we are a Christian society, and the Bible indicates that we women should submit to our husbands, we still have a human right to decide whether we consent or not,” Senator Francis-James said.
According to Part Two, Subsection One of The Sexual Offenses Act (1995), “a husband commits the offense of sexual assault when he has sexual intercourse with his wife without her consent by force or fear, or where there is existent about them, one, a decree in divorce, two, a decree of legal separation, three, a separation agreement or four, an order for the husband not to molest his wife or have sexual intercourse with her.”
According to the senator, this part of the law is ‘unacceptable’, as it makes marital rape a legal claim only in the context of a separation or divorce.
“Our understanding from the law here is that if you are not going through a divorce or separation, you cannot abstain from your husband. “
“I think this is certainly ignorance and we need legislative reform, we need to advocate to have the law changed because it is a woman’s human right whether she wants to abstain or not, whether she wants to submit or not.”
In several countries around the globe, including our neighbors Cuba and Venezuela, the crime of marital rape is criminalised.