Marital Rape in Singapore: Exposed

Faith. Trust. Love. 

These are the very ideals that a man and woman joined in matrimony promise to uphold throughout their marriage. Whilst this institution is synonymous with respectability and social propriety, society often rabidly overlooks any visible cracks in it. Yes, part of what marriage entails is a ‘safe space’ for both parties, but does this superficial assumption make it okay for us to believe that this is upheld by all, consistently? While conjugal rights are an actual thing and annulments are granted in several states for unconsummated marriages, it is in no way an indication that a spouse has the right to demand those rights when consent is being withheld.

A stranger who sexually assaults a woman fuels outrage and society demands harsh punishment by law. So why is it that a husband that does the same, creates self-doubt and/or a need to conceal it amongst victims? It can be partially attributed to the fact that most women themselves are unclear about their rights within the parameters of a marriage.

Most women tend to envision and idealise their wedding from a young age but what they don't expect is to endure violation by the man of their dreams, within the scope of their marriage. When it happens, there are a variety of complex and compelling emotions that hold them back from vindicating the man they married. Shock, humiliation, an inability to rock the status quo, fear, powerlessness and/or perceived powerlessness...A myriad of things hold them back from demanding justice. How much of these things are socially constructed and imposed on the female members of our society? How much of these are we as a society unwittingly condoning through lack of awareness, inaction or just misplaced logic?

We define rape as forced or coerced sex- an aberrant act that transpires when a woman hasn't had the opportunity to give consent freely-so why does this become okay when it happens under the veneer of something ‘socially respectable’ such as marriage? A violation is a violation, regardless, and should be addressed with appropriate gravitas.
 

Despite being an economically developed country, Singapore has a long way to go in terms of social evolution. Our cultural values require us to be constantly seen as ‘faultless’, moral and functional- so much so that the drive for some to ‘save face’ has become much more important than the rights of those being marginalised. This imbalance has to be redressed. When how we are ‘seen’ becomes more important than a person’s actual well-being, it is time to change the way we think. This, however, is only one aspect of this issue.
 
Marriage is an essential tenet of our most basic building block- the family. We all know how significant the concept of the family is within the Singaporean culture, and how lauded it is from the realms of policy-making to the realms of daily life. The significance accorded to the concept of the family then also becomes another catalyst for actions such as marital rape and abuse to be swept under the rug. Apart from propagating an unhealthy culture of silence around such trespasses, it also promotes the patriarchal view that women should remain a powerless receptacle of whatever their husbands should choose to inflict on them. 
 
 
In the case of marital rape, the law hasn't always been on the right side either. Up till 2007, marital rape was not even recognised as a criminal offence. While the situation is marginally better, it is to be noted that some laws have simply been amended to acknowledge marital rape only if: a wife is under 13 years of age or if a wife and husband are living apart during a divorce hearing. Other more effective forms of recognition have come when women have been able to obtain a personal protection order against their husbands.
 
Even with burgeoning attempts to address this stigmatised issue, cases of marital rape have often been settled by fines or simply 18 months in jail. Mind you, the minimum sentence for non-marital of rape can go up to 20 years. These are, but meagre consequences when otherwise, society would have been mortified if it had happened outside the confines of marriage. But more importantly, they don't provide any solace to other victimised wives or send a message to entitled husbands who inflict this abuse.
 

In June 2016, the government made more moves to restructure existing laws. Minister of Social and Family Development, Tan Chuan-Jin has pushed for the re-development of the law protecting men against being convicted for marital rape. The Straits Times reports that during a House debate he said, “Although married persons have conjugal rights over each other, such rights should be exercised within the reasonable behaviour.” In the same article, it was also reported that nominated MP Kok Heng Leun is also fighting the battle against marital rape. 
 

Whilst this is encouraging, we as a collective need to amend our own social consciousness to actively transform into a society that doesn't allow for this on ANY level. We may not all be policy-makers but we can be a society that doesn’t hide behind meaningless social norms and rules that allow for injustices to take place, just because a ‘marriage’ label is applied to it.
 
Just think…the more we consciously (or sub-consciously) hush victims, the more the more we're enabling aggressors to perpetuate marital rape. The more we ignore that such violations can take place within a marriage, the more people will subscribe to the same damaging social thought processes. Historically, the world has never been kind to women and we cannot continue to tolerate this in our own backyards by continuing to make victims feel isolated and powerless...or by being afraid to break the current social status quo. We just cannot.
 
How can we hope to raise girls in the same society where we fail to empower and protect them? Society has been a silent enabler of marital rape for a variety of reasons, and the onus is on us to recognise and dismantle these reasons. The time is up for us to stop ignoring or tolerating marital rape. Let's discard the rose-coloured glasses, and let’s start acknowledging that it has no place in civilised society.

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