Article Bahamas: Parliament to Consider Criminalizing Marital Rape

Bahamian news media reported in mid-September 2022 that the government of the Bahamas had drafted legislation to criminalize marital rape and was inviting feedback on the legislation from stakeholders. The government’s move comes in the wake of public outcry after a decision issued by the Supreme Court of the Bahamas on August 29, 2022, which held that the country’s 1991 Sexual Offences Act explicitly precludes the possibility of rape occurring within a marriage.

The case involved a woman who filed a petition for divorce on the grounds of cruelty, alleging that her husband repeatedly had sex with her against her will. The judge in the case considered the definition of rape in Bahamian law, which reads that “rape is the act … [of] having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse … without the consent of that other person.” In her strict reading of the law, the judge was unable to find that the husband raped his wife. She noted that “[i]n this place we interpret existing laws and apply them; we cannot and must not succumb to the temptation to reform laws.” She further found that the husband was correct in claiming that in Bahamian law “sex in marriage between the parties is a right.” However, given that the husband exercised that right by force and exerted pain on his wife, he acted with cruelty, and on those grounds the judge granted the wife’s petition for a divorce.

The issue of marital rape is a long simmering issue in the Bahamas. In 2009, the government introduced a bill proposing a life sentence for marital rape, but withdrew the bill from parliamentary consideration after opposition parties declined to support it. Pledges to amend the existing rape law were made in 2013 and 2018, but ultimately no action was taken. In 2017, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women “urged the [g]overnment to adopt a comprehensive law on violence against women and domestic violence and to close other legal gaps, for example by outlawing marital rape.” In 2018, during the Bahamas’s Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council, five nations, including the United States, recommended that the Bahamas pass legislation to criminalize marital rape. The Bahamas accepted the recommendations but did not take action until the outcry over the decision in the divorce case.

The draft bill the government released in September updates the Sexual Offences Act to define rape as “the act of any person not under fourteen years of age having sexual intercourse with another person without the consent of that person where he knows that person does not consent or is reckless as to whether the person consents.”

It is unclear when Parliament will take up the bill. The minister of social services indicated that while it is not a “top priority,” it remains among the government’s priorities.

Michael Chalupovitsch, Law Library of Congress
November 14, 2022

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