Marriage isn't perpetual consent

  • Family
  • Friday, 09 Nov 2018

Sexual violence is a common form of domestic abuse and mustbe recognised by law as rape. Photo: Filepic

Marital rape remains a deeply misunderstood form of domestic violence. A husband forcing himself on his wife is often seen as a man seeking his conjugal rights.

The idea of consent in a marriage is not widely understood and instead, wives are supposed to be in a perpetual state of consent.

A 2015 survey from the Canadian Women’s Foundation found an alarming lack of understanding about marriage and sexual consent.

Of the 1,500 people surveyed, 97% understood that new partners and casual dates needed consent before sex.

However one in 10 did not think that spouses or long-term partners needed consent.

Such antiquated and patriarchal beliefs are a big reason marital rape cases often go unreported. The unwillingness of the government to criminalise rape within a marriage propagates this belief.

But for women’s activists, who all too often have to come to the aid of women who have been assaulted sexually by their spouses, marital rape is a deeply dangerous form of domestic violence.

A rape, they explain, is usually a one-time occurence but marital rape allows for the victim to be assaulted again and again.

With marital rape, women are violated in their most intimate relationships by someone with whom they share their lives, homes, and possibly children.

In addition to a violation of their bodies, they are faced with a betrayal of trust and intimacy.

Section 375A is inadequate, they explain, because rape can happen without hurt, for example by intoxication or other forms of coercion.

In many cases, a husband forces himself on his wife, is rough with her, threatens her even, but doesn’t leave her bleeding or bruised – what happens then?

“The refusal to criminalise spousal rape means that married women are not protected under rape law.

“It also fails to recognise that rape is fundamentally the absence of consent.

“By not recognising marital rape, we are sending the message that it’s okay for husbands to rape their wife,” says Women's Aid Organisation's communications officer Tan Heang-Lee.

Furthermore, if convicted under Section 375A, perpetrators can face only up to five years jail compared to a maximum of 20 years for rape.

As a signatory to the Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), Malaysia is obliged to eliminate discrimination against all women.

The exception to Section 375A discriminates against women raped by their husbands.

“We don’t need to create a new marital rape offence. We simply need to remove the exception in Malaysia’s rape law.

“We urge the government to reconsider their decision and recognise marital rape as as rape,” says Tan.

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