No To Rape. No Exceptions.
By Jolene Tan
At first blush, the campaign name No To Rape seems odd. Who could disagree?
But reality is odder still. The law itself, the Singapore Penal Code, says “yes” to rape. A man can force a woman to have sex with him, and never be prosecuted or convicted for rape, so long as they are married. (There are limited exceptions – for instance, where the couple is “living apart” and the woman has applied for a protection order – but they do not apply to most marriages.) This is known as marital immunity for rape.
Shockingly, marital immunity extends not only to adult women but also to minor wives. A man penetrating a girl of 14 or 15 without her consent will not be treated as committing rape, so long as he is her husband.
No To Rape calls for marital immunity for rape to be abolished completely, so that all rape complaints face the same processes of investigation, and the same potential for prosecution and conviction, regardless of who the perpetrator might be. More than 2,400 people have signed our petition at NoToRape.com to show their support for this position.
Why does marital immunity exist to begin with? This provision was bequeathed to us by the British. Traditionally, in many societies, women were not understood as full people, but partly property. Women were assumed not to have sex for their own purposes. Sexual access to their bodies was decided by their owners – fathers if they were not married, and husbands if they were.
Rape was a crime against “purity”, a quality for which a woman’s body was a vehicle, and from which her body derived value. This value belonged to her father or husband. Rape destroyed this value, and had the character of a property crime against the relevant man. That being so, how could forcing your wife to have sex be rape? The man was simply accessing the value to which he was entitled. The woman’s feelings were irrelevant. Her non-consent was a kind of malfunction, a failure of a thing to serve its proper purpose; maybe regrettable if you were sentimental, but not a matter for law. The husband had “already had her” and was licensed to do so, the wife had long lost her “purity” to him – and it was purity, and not women, that the law protected.
Thanks to the global struggles of women’s rights campaigners, this understanding of rape is now alien and abhorrent to many. We understand rape as a crime because it is an act of violence. It is an invasive appropriation of the victim’s body against her will and contrary to her purposes, to serve the desires and wishes of the rapist. It says that her right to choose what to do with herself does not matter, that she is simply a resource to be used by the rapist. And this is just as heinous whether the rapist is a stranger, an acquaintance, a colleague, a friend, a lover, or a husband.
Prosecuting marital rape is not interference with a private relationship any more than is prosecuting any other form of domestic violence. Rape is not sexual intimacy – it is just a beating carried out with a sexual organ instead of a fist. A marriage certificate should not be a license to commit violence. If you agree, please sign the No To Rape petition today.
The writer, a charity fundraiser with a legal background, is one of the organisers of the No To Rape campaign. AWARE supports the campaign.