Rape is a topic that makes many people of all ages uncomfortable. Few people think of themselves as potential rape victims, and even fewer consider themselves capable of the rape of another. The natural reluctance to talk about the issue and the widespread existence of mistaken ideas about rape have resulted in a great deal of secrecy, silence, and shame surrounding the subject. Lack of understanding, awareness, and open communication about rape only adds to the suffering of victims.
Marital rape is illegal in 18 American states, 3 Australian states, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, France, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Rape in any form is an act of utter humiliation, degradation and violation rather than an old concept of penetration. The nation, pregnant with misconceptions of rape, deeply ingrained cultural and religious stereotypes, and changing social values, must quickly alter the letter of the law.
The problem is that marriage is accepted as sacrosanct.
Awareness must be increased
Marriage does not thrive on sex and the fear of frivolous litigation should not stop protection from being offered to those caught in abusive traps, where they are reduced to the status of a chattel. Apart from judicial awakening, we primarily require generation of awareness. Men are the perpetrators of this crime. “Educating boys and men to view women as valuable partners in life, in the development of society and the attainment of peace are just as important as taking legal steps protect women’s human rights,” says the UN. Men have the social, economic, moral, political, religious and social responsibility to combat all forms of gender discrimination.
Related reading: Mythology, rape and silencing the victim
Organisations working for victims of sexual violence were quick to point out that the new law has serious omissions: Most prominently, it does not criminalise marital rape. A woman raped by her husband continues to have no recourse under Indian law. The UN Population Fund states that more than two thirds of married women in India, aged between 15 and 49, have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex.
Fifty-six per cent of Indian women believed occasional wife-beating to be justified. The marital rape exemption can be traced to statements by Sir Mathew Hale, Chief Justice in England, during the 1600s. He wrote, “The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract, the wife hath given herself in kind unto the husband, whom she cannot retract.”
Section 375, the provision of rape in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), echoes very archaic sentiments, mentioned as its exception clause, “Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape.” Is marital rape a myth? Can we come out of this misconception and confusion?
Related reading: Marital rape. A reality in this marriage.
Marital rape is a form of sexual offence and a form of violence against women in any form. It constitutes a violation of women’s human rights such as the right to equal protection of the law, liberty and security of the person and freedom from discrimination. Sex becomes the weapon, the vehicle to accomplish the desired result, which is to overwhelm, overpower, embarrass, and humiliate another person.
Debate is essential
All non-consensual sex is rape, whether it takes place within a marriage or any other relationship.
Further, marriage doesn’t mean recovered permission to sexual advancements. Some wives withhold sex from their husbands and their sexual drive or libido is so low that they can seldom make love to their husbands. However, these reasons do not constitute a license for husbands to rape their wives. Men who rape wives generally have multiple sexual partners. When their wives say no, it hurts their ego and in order to show their authority and supremacy, they force their wives.
Let us not use the notions of privacy and sanctity of marriage to condone or ignore sexual violence. It is a deep topic and it needs debate.