Painful reality of rape in marriage

Date: January 1, 1970
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“Who would believe you if you tell people that your own husband has raped you? They would laugh at you and tell you it is his right since he is legally married to you. Even when he does it with a butcher’s knife under your throat, you have to keep quiet and cannot go to the police,À said Amen,* with a lump in her throat.

For two years Amen struggled to stop her husband from raping her. “It did not take long after my wedding for my husband to demand sex at any time of the day,” she recalls. “Three to four times a day was not enough for him. But the worst was in the night when he had a butcher’s knife under my throat. When I struggled he threatened me with the samurai sword he kept under bed.” 
Leaving after two horrendous years, even then her fear did not stop, as she received harassing telephone calls from him. She changed telephone numbers several times. Finally, her divorce went through.
One of the very few female lifeguards in the country, Amen seems to have all the necessary qualities and abilities to deal with difficult, stressful and painful situations. She is physically strong and composed under pressure. Yet in her own house, she was powerless to stop her husband. Amen says she would have certainly sought help if there had been a law and the proper environment to protect her.
There are hundreds of women like Amen, ashamed to talk about what is happening to them because much of society views it unconceivable for a husband to rape a wife. The popular notion is that men have the right to sex anytime they want, and a woman should comply.
A social worker doing therapy with married women said, “This is the worse form of rape as these women cannot denounce their aggressor. One of my clients had love marks on her neck… she said that her husband did this purposely so that people would not believe her.”
The recognition of marital rape is not only key to women’s rights, but has become an issue with irreversible consequences with the pandemic of HIV and AIDS. In many countries of the region, including Mauritius, the relationship between gender violence and HIV and AIDS has not been adequately addressed. Women who experience violence have little negotiating power when it comes to safe sex.
Although Part 6 of the draft Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, which is going to the Heads of States Summit in August 2008, is quite comprehensive in addressing a wide range of forms of gender based violence, the Protocol is disappointingly silent on marital rape.
Members of the SADC Protocol Alliance, a coalition of sixteen Southern African organisations, view this with great concern. They are urging governments to include specific reference to marital rape as one of the forms of gender-based violence to be outlawed. Without proper legislation, marital rape survivors will find it difficult to seek legal aid, let alone having access to post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent possible HIV infection, and other support services. 
Marital rape affects not only women, but also their children and the community at large.  These women lose confidence, and may suffer from physical and mental illnesses. Medical and psychological help for survivors are of utmost importance.
In October 2007, the Sexual Offences Bill went to the Mauritius Parliament. This piece of legislation clearly stipulates that: “Any person who, without the consent of another person intentionally penetrates the vagina or anus of that other person with any part of his body, with any object, shall commit an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a term of a penal servitude not exceeding 45 year.”  
However, unfortunately in prudish Mauritius due to a public outcry, the Bill did not go through and was sent to a Select Committee.  The recommendations have not come out yet.  Asked for her views the Minister of Women’s Rights, Child Protection and Family Welfare, Indira Seebun said, “If one word is removed in the draft Sexual Offence Bill, that is anal sex, women in Mauritius might be more prepared to accept the Bill.”
In a recent interview to a member of the Protocol Alliance, Mauritian Minister of Justice, Rama Valayden said, “We want to position ourselves as a model of human rights in the region.” Human rights are also women’s rights.
International organisations and agreements recognise marital rape as a human rights violation, and countries such as Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Seychelles have domesticated this position in their criminal justice system. It is time for the rest of the region to follow suit. Women should be safe, on the streets and inside their own homes.
Loga Virahsawmy is the President of Media Watch Organisation in Mauritius. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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