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Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 1 Sound and Fury: Newspaper coverage of the marital rape debate in New Providence newspapers Lisa Benjamin1 and Cathleen LeGrand2 1 Lecturer, UWI/COB LL.B. Programme, School of Social Sciences, The College of The Bahamas; 2 Former Public Services Librarian, The College of The Bahamas Abstract Researchers examined the coverage appearing in two Bahamian newspapers of the public debate regarding a proposed Bill in 2009 to criminalize marital rape in The Bahamas. They examined the arguments that appeared in newspaper coverage to analyze the ways the newspaper media framed the debate. Researchers found that coverage of the debate was mixed but relied heavily on opinions and stereotypical beliefs rather than on facts. Introduction Similar themes usually arise during public debates regarding the criminalization of marital rape, regardless of in which jurisdiction the legal change is proposed. The debate frequently raises stereotypical ideas about rape, such as the idea that rape by an acquaintance, a partner or a spouse is not "real rape." These types of stereotypical ideas are manifested in rape myths; one of the most popular being the unfounded fear of false allegations, painting women as vindictive liars who falsely accuse men of rape in order to gain an advantage. Another justification for not criminalizing marital rape that often appears is the issue of privacy, claims that "what happens between husband and wife in the bedroom is a private matter," (Mahoney & Williams, 1998, p. 1 2) and should not be subject to government interference or legal scrutiny. By reporting these unfounded and stereotypical beliefs and opinions, the media can "actively [work] to privilege" that side of the debate (Gavey & Gow, 2001, p. 346). News reporting reflects choices made by the media: reporters choose which topics to cover, how to cover those topics and where to place their reports. News stories are "framed in specific ways. Some aspects of the issue may be given more emphasis while others are neglected or ignored" (Thakker & Durant, 2006, p. 28). Members of the media select "what will be discussed, how it will be discussed, and above all, how it will not be discussed" (Altheide, 1997, p. 651). In this article, the authors examined the coverage appearing in two Bahamian newspapers of the public debate regarding a proposed Bill in 2009 to criminalize marital rape in The Bahamas. They examined the arguments ("themes") that appeared in the newspaper coverage to analyze the ways the newspaper media framed the debate. The authors expected to find that newspaper coverage of the debate was not balanced and based on facts. The marital rape exception Many of the themes analyzed in this article which appeared in the newspaper coverage of the
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 2 marital rape Bill are based on social stereotypes of sexual roles of women which have, in part, been informed and validated by the historical development of laws on marital rape. As a result, it is instructive to briefly review the legal origins of the marital rape exception. The marital rape exception has a long and convoluted history, both in English common law and statute. The marital rape exception first appeared in the History of the Pleas of the Crown (1736), written by Sir Matthew Hale, the Chief Justice in England. It stated: the husband cannot be guilty of rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract (Hale, 1736, p. 629). Hales proposition was accepted, for the most part, as legal authority and became the inheritance of the criminal law systems throughout the commonwealth and the United States of America (Mitra, 1979, p. 563). It is arguable that this occurred because it reflected a convenient and common social view of wives as the chattel, or property, of their husbands. Emily Brown posits that the marital rape exemption was originally based on three assumptions: 1) that upon marriage the wife gives her irrevocable consent to sexual relations; 2) that women were chattel and men had a property interest in their wives (rape was originally a crime of property rather than a crime against the person); and 3) the doctrine of marital unity: that upon marriage a wifes identity was merged with her husbands and it then became physically impossible for a husband to rape himself (Brown, 1994 95). The marital rape exception is rooted, therefore, in property, contract and criminal law, and the legal exception has both informed, and been informed by, the social status of women and wives. The marital rape exception was finally abolished in the English common law in 1991 in the House of Lords case of R v R  AC 599. In 1994 Parliament passed the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which eliminated the statutory marital rape exemption. However, five years later, only twelve cases of alleged rape by a cohabitating husband reached the English courts (Fus, 2006). In the United States the exception has received varied treatment. In the Georgia Supreme Court case of Warren v State (336, S.E. end at 224) the court analyzed the implied consent theory. The Court decided that in the present day, couples defined their own terms in a marriage contract, and no reasonable person would agree to a contractual term giving her spouse an irrevocable right to rape her (Brown, 1994 95, p. 660). By 2005 only 20 states had completely eliminated the marital rape exemptions from state laws, with some 30 states still retaining some exceptions to husbands (Ferro, Cermele & Saltzman, 2008).
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 3 Fus argues that because the original justifications of the marital rape exception (irrevocable consent, wives as property and marital unity) have lost their legitimacy as the legal, political and social role of women has become more equal, secondary rationales have now arisen to take their place. These include: evidentiary difficulties in proving marital rape; the spectre of vengeful wives seeking to blackmail their husbands; the fear that the criminalization of marital rape would disrupt marriages and prevent reconciliation; and state intrusion into the privacy of marriage (Fus, 2006). Hasday explains that many of the modern defences of marital rape are based on an assumption of conjoined interest in marriages which are so absolute that proponents do not concede that a marital rape exemption might inflict harm on wives (2000, p.1485). As Hasday continues, these defences stem from a cultural aversion to envisioning marriage (and marital intercourse in particular) as a potential site of disharmony, antagonism and danger and that this aversion is long lived, widespread and exceedingly difficult to uproot (2000, p 1486). The Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act (1991) of the Bahamas and the proposed changes In 2008 the Government of the Bahamas introduced a Bill to amend the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, 1991 (the Act). The 2008 Bill was passed with largely no controversy or public debate, and non marital rape now carries a potential life sentence, with no minimum sentence (Sexual Offences (amendment)", 2008). The Government did not propose an abolition of the marital rape exception in the 2008 Bill, but introduced a second Bill in July of 2009, which proposed two changes to the Act: abolition of the marital rape exception; and extension of the time restriction from six months to two years for reporting summary offences. The definition of rape in The Bahamas Rape is currently defined in section 3 of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act (as amended in 2008) as: the act of any person not under fourteen years of age having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse without the consent of that other person; without consent which has been extorted by threats or fear of bodily harm;
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 4 with consent obtained by personating the spouse of that other person; or with consent obtained by false and fraudulent representations as to the nature and quality of the act. (Sexual Offences, 1991, emphasis added). As the Act stands, there is no offence of rape of a spouse, either by husband of wife or wife of husband. However, under the current law, a person can be prosecuted for sexual assault of his or her spouse if the couple is legally separated or divorced, or if a non molestation or non habitation order has been issued. Under section 15(2) of the Act, any prosecution under these circumstances is subject to the consent of the Attorney General. Non consensual sexual intercourse in these circumstances is not defined as rape, but sexual assault between husband and wife. The crime of rape within marriage does not exist under Bahamian law, although the crime of indecent assault by a spouse does exist within the Act (Sexual Offences, 1991, section 17). The Bill proposed in 2009 was a response to this legislative absence. In respect of marital rape, it proposed to simply remove the words who is not his spouse from section 3, and make the crime of rape equally applicable within and outside of marriage. The 2009 Bill was never debated in Parliament, and as of August 2011 its future is uncertain. Regional responses to the marital rape issue The majority of English speaking Caribbean countries have a marital rape exception, which derived from the original exception in the English common law. A notable exception is Trinidad & Tobago, which amended its Sexual Offences Act in 2000 to remove the marital rape exception. Literature Review Research on Marital Rape Internationally, research on marital rape only began in the 1980s after marital rape was criminalized in most U.S. states. Usually those studies involved either battered women (where the women revealed that they had been raped as well as battered by their husbands) or rape victims (some of whom happened to have been raped by their husbands) (Frieze, 1983). Rape is one of the most underreported crimes (Ferro, et al, 2008). Statistics for marital rape are difficult to obtain, but two studies in the U.S. have shown that 10 14% of married women reported being raped by their spouses (Monson & Langhinrichsen Rohling, 1998). There are no official statistics for the incidence of marital rape in The Bahamas, as it is not a criminal offence. However, a March 2007 UN and World Bank Joint Report highlighted the endemic issue of violence, including sexual violence, within the Caribbean. In respect of rape, it stated that
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 5 three of the top ten recorded rape rates occur in the Caribbean, including the top rated: the Bahamas at 133 per 100,000 population annually (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2007, para. 1.26). It is important to note that there are varying methodologies in the study of rape. In particular, with acquaintance or marital rape, many victims do not define the incident as rape although it may meet the legal definition of rape. In addition, many people reject the idea that marital rape is a real problem with real victims. Among the reasons for that rejection: "the idea that a woman's sexuality is a commodity that can be owned by her ... husband, the belief that what happens between husband and wife in the bedroom is a private matter, [or] that a man is entitled to sexual relations with his wife" (Mahoney & Williams, 1998, p. 1 2). Wives themselves may not even perceive the encounter as rape. A woman may be slow to consider her "husband as a potentially dangerous predator [which] may result in a reduced likelihood that [she] is willing to understand her nonconsensual sexual experience as rape" (Langhinrichsen Rohling & Monson, 1998, p. 434). Bergen points out that many women believe the myth that only stranger rape is real rape. Others believe that, in marriage, sex is an obligation and their "wifely duty" (Bergen, 2006). The existence of marital rape exceptions in the law may serve to further hinder women's ability to perceive nonconsensual marital sex as rape. The "symbolic effect" of legal marital rape exceptions may "socialize women in such a way that they fail to see themselves as rape victims" (Small & Tetrault, 1990, p.146). Attitudes towards marital rape itself and toward its criminalization Later research on marital rape looked at attitudes about marital rape itself and about its criminalization. The relationship between the perpetrator and the victim has a clear effect on attitudes toward marital rape. Studies show that an unwanted sexual experience is less likely to be called rape when there is any history of previous consensual sex between the parties (Ferro, et al., 2008, p. 773). In their study, Jeffords and Dull (1982) found that 60% of their subjects opposed the criminalization of marital rape and that the most common predictor of support or opposition to the criminalization of marital rape was sex: 45% of women supported criminalization compared to 24% of men. One possible reason for this difference: "females are the potential victims, whereas males are the potential perpetrators" (Jeffords & Dull, 1982, p. 758 9). Effects of marital rape There remains "the common assumption that being assaulted by a known man is less traumatic than becoming a victim of an unknown rapist" (Frese, Moya & Megias, 2004, p. 155). Many are "reluctant to believe that the [marital rape is] a violation of the wifes rights or that she will be psychologically damaged from the experience because the perpetrator is someone with whom she has had consensual sex in the past" (Ferro, et al., 2008, p. 773).
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 6 Results of a study by Yegidis demonstrated that victims of marital rape also experience other forms of physical and emotional abuse (1988). She concludes that "marital rape is not an isolated event, but, rather, is part of a general syndrome of abuse" (Yegidis, 1988, p. 68). Another study demonstrated that marital rape victims and stranger rape victims suffer similar physical and psychological effects (Kilpatrick, Best, Saunders & Veronen, 1988). Non consent in marriage Issues of consent in marriage are of particular interest in the area of marital rape. Research into marital rape has also looked at how one can identify consent to sex in marriage. Non consent or resistance to marital sex takes many forms. Basile's study provides a long list of examples of acquiescence to unwanted sex: some wives give in because it is easier than arguing; some because they fear what might happen if they do not; others because they have experienced violence in the past and want to avoid a repeat. In many instances, "[t]hese relationships were not usually characterized by physical force, just enough verbal threats to create an environment defined by fear..." (Basile, 1999, p. 1049). Marital sexual coercion may include violence or threats of violence, but it also may not. A woman raped by a stranger may be able to produce physical signs of her resistance. A married woman may be less able to produce evidence of force, coercion or physical threat. A study by Marshall and Holtzworth Munroe revealed a "broad range of sexually coercive behaviors" that occur in marital sexual aggression (2002, p. 287). Indeed, their results demonstrate that marital sexual aggression includes more than legally defined rape. Husband sexual coercion may include a wide variety of behaviors... that [may] not involve threats of physical aggression. (Marshall & Holtzworth Munroe, 2002, p. 290) Victims of marital rape are more likely than other rape victims to use verbal rather than physical resistance against their attacker. Women may choose to avoid resisting marital rape for several reasons. First, women who experience marital rape often do not resist due to their belief that they are not strong enough to ward of an attack from their husbands... Secondly, resisting marital rape may cause injury, and women may choose not to resist in order to avoid injury.... Lastly, women who are victims of marital or intimate partner rape may be unprepared to resist because they do not expect that their intimate partner would attack them. These women live with their perpetrators, and are often unprepared to leave their partners and must consider how their reactions will affect their interactions with their perpetrators after the attack. (Martin, Taft
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 7 & Resick, 2007, p. 340) Rape Myths Many of the thematic frames which formed part of the researchers newspaper analysis were derived from rape myths. Rape myths have been defined as false and stereotyped views or beliefs about rape, rape victims and offenders (Andrias, 1992, p.3). A few of the most common rape myths are: rape usually occurs at night, out of doors, and between strangers; only bad girls get raped; the perpetrator usually uses a weapon and leaves the victim physically injured; rape is an expression of sexual (albeit misplaced) desire; and women falsely accuse men of rape when they have been jilted or have something to cover up (Andrias, 1992; Burt, 1980). In fact, studies have shown that most rapes are committed by perpetrators who are known to the victim (Andrias, 1992), occur in a place familiar to the victim (Andrias, 1992), that rape, including marital rape, does not always involve physical violence (Langhinrichsen Rohling & Monson, 1998), and there is no statistical evidence that false accusations of rape are significantly higher than for other crimes. It has been posited that rape myths are cultural myths that serve several social purposes by protecting us from uncomfortable truths. In fact, rape myths may have a much more pernicious social and legal effect. Burt and Albin found that rape myth acceptance infects jury pools (as cited in Andrias, 1992, p. 52). Torrey cites a study of 1,056 potential jurors carried out by Hubert Field and Leigh Bienen which found that the majority (66%) saw rape as being provoked by the victims behaviour or appearance .over one third (34%) believed women should be held responsible for preventing their own rape and almost half (45%) felt that most rapists are motivated by sex (Torrey, 1990 91). Media reporting of rape myths can lead to a vicious circle, teaching or reinforcing rape myths where they were not initially held or firmly held (Franiuk et al., 2008). This may, in turn, make victims less likely to label their assault as rape, and therefore less likely to report it (Franiuk, et al., 2008). Socially, therefore, the less a society recognizes the magnitude of this crime, [and] the less that is done to eliminate perpetuating factors like rape myths (Franiuk, et al., 2008, p. 798). Media Framing A media frame is a particular way in which a journalist composes a news story to optimize audience accessibility (Valkenburg, Semetko & De Vreese, 1999, p.550) or can refer to the way an issue is discussed and presented in a news segment (Abrajano & Singh, 2009, p. 4). Frames, therefore, can reflect the views held in wider society, and can originate from outside
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 8 of, and be reflected by, the media. Frames can also affect public judgments about "the causes and solutions to social problems." (Thakker & Durant, 2006, p. 29) Accuracy of media coverage Media reporting can contribute to rape myths, by deciding which types of crimes to report and how to frame these reports. Some research has focused on the accuracy of media coverage of crime, rape in particular. Schwengels & Lemert (1986) compared newspaper coverage of rape with police reports of the same crimes. They discovered that the newspaper underreported details of those crimes in such ways as to give readers an inaccurate picture of rape. In addition to underreporting of rapes generally, when rapes are reported, only certain types of rapes may be reported. In a one year study comparing police and newspaper reports on rape, Schwengels and Lemert found that published newspaper stories avoided rapes committed by relatives and family friends. Instead, 62% of the published rapes concerned rapes by strangers double the rate in the police records. (1986, p. 37). Newspaper readership in the Bahamas There are two widely read daily newspapers in The Bahamas (Table 1) The Nassau Guardian is considered by some to be supportive of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). (During the time of the marital rape debate, the PLP was the opposition party in the Bahamas.) The Tribune has traditionally considered itself a champion of the "common man" (Lent, 1973, p. 98) and as voice for the unprivileged (Dupuch, 1967). Today, The Tribune is considered by many to be supportive of the Free National Movement (FNM). During the time of the marital rape debate, the FNM was the ruling party in the Bahamas and an FNM minister introduced the legislation. Table 1: Approximate circulation figures for The Nassau Guardian and The Tribune Day The Nassau Guardian* The Tribune** Monday 13,000 21,000 Tuesday N/A 15,000 Wednesday N/A 15,000 Thursday 13,000 15,000 21,000 Friday N/A 15,000 Saturday 10,000 N/A B. Wright, personal communication (2010) ** G. Arthur, personal communication (2010) It is generally believed that actual readership is much higher as newspapers are read by more
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 9 individuals than purchase them. Methodology The authors examined articles published in the The Nassau Guardian and The Tribune Articles for the Guardian and Tribune are available full text online, through each newspapers website. The authors chose to examine these daily newspapers for several reasons: 1) Newspapers are believed to be a popular source of information. Newspaper vendors stand roadside during the morning rush hour, selling copies of the daily papers. Commuters stop their cars in mid traffic to buy copies. 2) Newspaper coverage of the issue was readily available to the authors. While further discussion of the marital rape issue also occurred on the television news and on the radio, as well as in "town hall" meetings, transcripts of those discussions are not readily available. Examination of these other fora where discussions took place would be a fruitful direction for future research The authors searched for articles using the search engines available on the websites of each newspaper. These search engines only permit keyword searching. As a search term, researchers used the keyword phrase "marital rape." The search was limited to the period January 2009 through December 2010, the time covering the introduction of the marital rape legislation and its eventual failure to be debated by Parliament. A total of 106 articles were found. Content types ranged from articles of journalistic reporting (which readers would expect to be objective), features and editorials (which readers would expect to be subjective) to letters to the editor (which readers would expect to contain the opinions of their friends and neighbours). Selection and coding of themes Themes were drawn from literature on rape myths and media coverage of rape; researcher's expectations (based on their knowledge and experience of Bahamian society), and their recollections of the media coverage itself. After reading a sampling of articles, new themes were identified and added. In the end, 30 themes were identified (Table 2. One proposed theme was finally discarded as it failed to appear in the newspaper coverage.). The authors were interested in the specific beliefs and misconceptions of the Bahamian public, and felt that this large number of themes allowed them to recognize, illustrate and assess each precise belief and misconception. In the final analysis, many individual themes were collapsed into the larger conceptual categories included in this paper.
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 10 Table 2: Themes and their frequency in 106 articles. Theme Mean Frequency 1."She's Lying"/ Women are Vindictive 30 2. Acquaintance rape is not real rape 14 3. Wifely duty/marital vow implies consent 29 4. Victims account of rape experience 14 5. Evidence based/includes data 12 6. Religious argument/cites scripture 26 7. Fear of international conventions/ international standardization 8 8. Interference of Government/privacy issue 15 9. Individual problem, not a social problem 2 10. [Discarded] 0 11. Bahamas has signed international conventions on issue 9 12. Historical role of women 8 13. Rape is a violent act 22 14. Sentencing up to life 9 15. Risk of STDs 15 16. New law will be burden on court system 3 17. More consultation needed 15 18. New law will lead to civil unions 12 19. General effects of rape 6 20. Prostitution an issue 1 21. Include safeguards for false accusations 18 22. Lack of enforcement is/will be a problem 5
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 11 23. Amend for lesser sentencing/make a lesser crime 13 24. Misunderstanding of consent 12 25. Bill as partisan issue 13 26. Demand for evidence/proof this is a problem 8 27. Law will strengthen marriage 6 28. It is abusive of women to withhold sex in marriage 4 29. Man has no alternative to cheat if marital sex withheld 5 30. Bill strips men of rights/gender battle 6 31. Bill promotes gender equality 25 Each researcher independently analyzed and coded all articles for the presence of any of the prescribed themes. Overall inter rater consistency was assessed by comparing each rater's totals for each theme. Where the totals differed, raters re analyzed the articles where the presence of a theme was in dispute. Raters reached their goal: a difference of no more than five for each theme. Additional analysis of articles Articles were also coded for: type of article (news article, editorial, letter, etc.), day of publication, page on which the article appeared, source quoted in article (politician, police officer, clergyman), and slant of article (did it take a stand either for or against the proposed legislation or provide a mixture of views). Results and Analysis The most commonly occurring themes in all of the newspaper pieces are given in Table 3 Table 3: Five most common themes from all newspaper coverage Theme No. of appearances (mean) Women are vindictive/ she's lying" 30 Wifely duty / marital vow implies consent 29 Religious argument / cites scripture 26 Bill promotes gender equality 2 5 Rape is a violent act 22
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 12 Of the 106 articles, 56% were news articles, many of which offered summaries of the legislation and the controversy to date. Others were summaries of the opinions of the general public. In this latter case, articles consisted of comments gathered from people "on the street", or of excerpts from the newspaper's online "comments" section, where opinion and invective were prevalent, including rape myths. However, the prevalence of these less formal, more immediate means of communication did not ensure a better informed or more reasonable discussion. See Table 4 for the most commonly occurring themes in the news articles. 19% of newspaper pieces were from the editorial page, where the editors and reporters expressed their opinions and judgments. These editorials were almost uniformly in favour of the legislation, demonstrating an interesting disconnect between the opinions of the media and the opinions of their readers. See Table 5 for the most commonly occurring themes in the editorial pages. 25% of newspaper pieces were letters to the editor, many of which repeated unfounded opinions of the problem. Letters to the editors were mixed, with almost equal numbers expressing favour or disfavour for the legislation. See Table 6 for the five most commonly occurring themes in the letters to the editor. 24% of all the newspaper pieces that ran appeared on Page A1, the front page of the newspaper. 37% of all pieces mentioned the position of a church, a religious association or a clergyman. Only 18% mentioned the position of a political figure. The position of the police concerning the new legislation or concerning the larger issue of marital rape, was absent from the newspaper coverage. Table 4: Five most common themes from the articles only Theme No. of appearances (mean) Wifely duty/marital vow implies consent 19 Women are vindictive/ shes lying 18 Include safeguards for false accusations 15 Bill promotes gender equality 14 Rape is a violent act 13 Table 5: Five most common themes from the editorials only Theme No. of appearances (mean) Bill promotes gender equality 8 Religious argument/cites scripture 7 Women are vindictive/shes lying 5 Wifely duty/marital vow implies consent 5 Rape is a violent act 5
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 13 Table 6: Five most common themes from the letters to the editor Theme No. of appearances (mean) Women are vindictive/ shes lying 7 Religious argument/cites scripture 7 Wifely duty/marital vow implies consent 6 Rape is a violent act 5 Demand for evidence/proof this is a problem 5 The top five themes were mostly consistent among the various types of coverage. Themes 1 ("she's lying" / women are vindictive) and 3 ("wifely duty") were popular themes in every case. Theme 21 ("include safeguards for false accusations") was uniquely popular in the news articles, possibly reflecting the frequency with which the possibility of false accusations was expressed by opponents of the Bill and had to be countered by the Bill's supporters. Theme 6 ("religious argument/scripture cited") was less common in the news articles but very common in both the editorials and the letters to the editorial. Theme 6 is the second most common theme in the latter two categories. Only among letters to the editor does theme 26 ("demand for evidence") appear in the top five, possibly demonstrating the skepticism many in the public felt toward the notion of marital rape as a serious domestic problem. The media did not seem to share that skepticism. Analysis of Specific Themes Vindictive Women The most popular theme researchers found in newspaper coverage of the marital rape bill in The Bahamas was theme 1 ("she's lying /women are vindictive), which appeared 30 times. When combined with theme 21 (Include safeguards for false accusations) to create a larger theme demonstrating the publics concern over the risk of false accusations of marital rape, the two themes appeared 48 times in the newspaper coverage. At times the vindictive women theme was repeated by both religious leaders and attorneys during the debate. The President of Bahamas Christian Council, Reverend Paul, states in The Tribune: council members ... raised a number of concerns about the proposed amendment, including whether it will be used as 'a means of spite' by wives, and whether proper checks and balances [will] be created 'to ensure that unfounded claims are not made' (Bahamas Christian Council rejects, 2009). The Bahamas Christian Councils statement, published in full in both dailies, continues: The council fully agrees that we must protect the rights of all in our society. But we cannot be too careful to protect persons whose rights may have been violated by implementing laws that have the potential to provide opportunity for the malignant, the evil, the whoremongers and the spiteful persons who are
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 14 looking for ways to get back at someone, because of some unfortunate circumstance. (Paul, 2009, p. A6, emphasis added). The Nassau Guardian quotes Wayne Munroe, former President of the Bahamas Bar Association, as saying: The problem that this creates is this: All you need is for there to be dysfunction in a household and a woman to be upset at a man and rape does not require any trauma and she calls the police and says my husband raped me. You would be arrested and you would be the subject of domestic orders. And it will be your word against hers as to whether she said no. (Lightbourne, 2009, 30 July, p. A3). It has been posited that the prevalence of the vindictive women myth reflects a sexist, unfounded distrust for their [wives] credibility and is based on the assumption that they [wives] are more spiteful and vengeful than other individuals (Augustine, 1990 1991, p. 576). Putting this belief in a local context, Deangelo Duncombe wrote, in a letter to the editor: The passing of this law can increase infidelity, promiscuity and also to an extent it will enhance homosexuality. As we all know the majority of Bahamian women in society tend to be very spiteful. So here it is her husband comes home from a hard day of work, and feels the need to perform sexual intercourse, but due to an argument they might have had the night before she decides she will not engage in such activity. Bear in mind she is only doing this to get back at him, now if the law was to pass and he insists on performing sex on her he can be imprisoned. Therefore to save himself from going to jail he decides to go elsewhere to another female who is willing to satisfy him. However, he is now committing adultery and the wife wants a divorce, which can be morally wrong because the reason for him cheating is because of her displaying her spiteful characteristics. (Duncombe, 2009, p. B4, emphasis added). The "vindictive women" argument clearly places the protection of the husbands reputation above the protection of his wifes right not to be raped (Sitton, 1993 1994, p. 267). Russell argues that, in the U.S., the fear of false accusations by wives has led some male legislators to delay or refuse to change the laws (as cited in Auster & Leone, 2001). Although it is not clear why this myth was so widely reported in the Bahamian newspaper coverage, it may be that the prevalence of adultery, or sweethearting as it is known locally, by Bahamian husbands has added to the already prevalent fear that wives may use a law criminalizing marital rape as a revenge tactic. Wifely duty
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 15 The second most popular rape myth discovered by researchers was theme 3: that it is a wifely duty to submit to sex, or, that upon marriage a wife gives implied and open ended consent to sex. This theme appeared 29 times in total. The Bahamas Christian Council statement couched the issue in terms of gender neutrality, stating that marriage involved mutual upfront, implicit, open ended sexual consent to each other on the day of their marriage for the duration of their marriage (Paul, 2009, p. A6). Researchers in the United States have found, based on interviews with 96 women, that women saw their wifely duty as being peacemaker, and sex was often the best route to keep the peace and to ensure that their husbands did not stray (Basile, 1999). The concept of irrevocable consent upon marriage by wives derives from the concept of the wife as the property, or chattel, of their husband. This attitude was explicitly denounced in the newspapers by some religious leaders. (Catholic Church gives support, 2009, A1). Fear of Unintended Consequences Researchers collapsed four related themes, themes 17 ("More consultation needed"), 18 ("New law will lead to civil unions"), 16 ("New law will be a burden on the Court system") and 22 ("Lack of enforcement of law will be a problem") into a larger category: Fear of unintended consequences of the proposed Bill. Altogether, this category of themes appeared 35 times, with theme 17 ("More consultation needed") appearing the most frequently, with 15 occurrences. Researchers were surprised at the frequency of occurrence of theme 18 ("New law will lead to civil unions") which appeared 12 times, but was entirely unrelated to the proposed legislation. One letter to the editor in The Tribune linked these unrelated issues in this way: Homosexuality can derive from this law too because being realistic about whats going on in the Bahamian society many men out there are what we call closet workers. As we pray as a nation to reduce the number of homosexuals out there this law will add to them because if a man is denied sex from his wife he can be weak minded and be persuaded by other men out there depending on the type of man he is because there are some weak minded men in society. (Duncombe, 2009). The theme that the new law would create a burden on an already overcrowded court system appeared only three times. This argument may be linked to the vindictive wives theme, or to the concept that abused women often do not follow their complaint with legal proceedings. It has been found that the fear of groundless cases after a marital rape law has been passed do not usually materialize (Yllo, 1996).
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 16 Not "A Real Crime" In this category, researchers collapsed three narrower themes, themes 2 (Acquaintance rape is not real rape), 23 ("amend the bill to require a lesser sentence [or, in other words, make marital rape a lesser crime than proposed by the legislation]"), and 24 ("misunderstanding of consent"). In all, these themes represented an argument that marital rape is not a "real" crime (unlike stranger rape) or, at least, is not as serious a crime requiring legal intervention. Combined, these themes appeared 39 times. Among the standard arguments for maintaining the marital rape exception is that "marital rape charges are impossible to prove" (Scheyett, 1988, p. 16). Evidence of force or coercion may be lacking owing to the ways (discussed above) that married women resist unwanted sex. Basile and others demonstrate that resistance to unwanted sex can take many forms (Basile, 1999; Marshall & Holtzworth Munroe, 2002; Martin, et al., 2007). When married women do resist, their resistance is more likely to be verbal than physical (Martin, et al., 2007). Therefore, the rape may not yield much in the way of physical evidence. This is particularly problematic in the Bahamian context. A study by Brennan, et al. found that Bahamians do not consider abusive acts to be "violent" unless they cause serious physical injury. To Bahamians, violence is not violence unless it results in "severe harm to the victim." (Brennan, et al, 2010, p. 12) It is conceivable, therefore, that any less serious injuries suffered by victims of marital rape may be perceived as non violent injuries. If the act that caused the injuries was not violence, then, by extension, it may not have been rape. Much of the newspaper coverage demonstrated confusion regarding the nature of consent in sexual relations. "[S]exual violence has nothing to do with the sexual activity taking place between consenting men and women..." (Reynolds, 2009, 30 Sept.). Some of the newspaper coverage ; letters to the editors in particular conflated the two. One such letter, imagines the legislation will require a man to contact their relevant attorneys to draft waiver or disclaimer forms and to have a stack of them on the night stand in the bedroom only to be executed (signed) by your spouse in case a moment of passion overwhelms you. (Armaly, 2009, p. B4) What about mens rights? Here, researchers collapsed three themes, themes 28 ("it is abusive of women to withhold sex"), 29 ("if denied sex, a man has no alternative but to cheat") and 30 ("the proposed legislation is a part of a gender battle and will strip men of their rights"). These themes appeared, in total, 15 times. In these themes, the proposed legislation is portrayed as a threat to all men, rather than just to the men who rape their wives. In many of the articles, the assumption is made, by men in particular, that any advances in rights for women are somehow a reduction in the rights of men, that "that gains for women must mean losses for men" (Gavey & Gow, 2001, p. 355). Gender equality is portrayed as a zero sum game. These arguments imagine
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 17 a society in which the gender tables have turned to the detriment of men and [to] the unfair advantage of women the reversal of a patriarchal system. (Gavey & Gow, 2001, p. 354) As on letter to the editor to The Tribune claims If I, as an innocent man, have no way to prove my innocence, then the law discriminates against me as a man. ("Readers disagree," 2009) These arguments draw on the "vindictive women" stereotype and the unfounded fear of false allegations. Another letter to The Tribune asserts that a small percentage of men who have married spiteful and/or vindictive spouses who will use this as an opportunity to attempt to embarrass them by parading them in front of the courts because of other unrelated situations...who will protect these good men? In my opinion even if one innocent man is caught in this situation that would be too many. (Braithwaite, 2009, p. B4) Such arguments try to portray both rape and false allegations of rape as equal crimes. While victim blaming was expected, the level of blame assigned in these themes was not. Some articles equated rape with the "abuse" of withholding sex from a husband, as if they are equally harmful and equally criminal actions. If the wife forbids the marital act, isn't that a form of violence as well? Isn't that an unnatural violation against the husband? Shouldn't that be outlawed? How far will the government enter the bedrooms of Bahamians? ("Readers disagree," 2009) The act of domestic violence known as marital rape occurs when sexual intercourse is forced upon a spouse who has not consented. This violent act is a "no no", even for Christians. There is, however, a flip side: It is also abusive and humiliating if a married partner denies sexual intercourse to a spouse without good reason. (Knowles, 2010) Arguments such as these hold the wife responsible for her rape and justify the husband's behavior he was merely reacting to "an unnatural violation" and was "driven to desperate action" by his wife (Anastasio & Costa, 2004, p. 536). "[T]he victim herself [is] the cause of the violence" (Anastasio & Costa, 2004, p. 536).
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 18 Rape as Violence In addition to the themes analysed above, being themes not based on facts and which often repeated rape myths, themes that attempted to counter rape myths also appeared in the newspaper coverage. One of the most prevalent of these themes was theme 13 ("Rape is a violent act"), which appeared 22 times, and was the fifth most popular theme recorded. Marital rape is most likely to occur in a marriage that is violent, although, as discussed above, there are incidents of marital rape which do not involve physical force (Whatley, 1993). However, marital rape can occur even where the relationship is not characterized by battering. Langhinrichsen Rohling and Monson found that approximately 5% of marital rape victims have never experienced physical abuse from their husbands but are subject to sexual violence only (1998). Bergen cites a study by Russell which suggests that 4% of the study sampled had been raped by their partners but not battered. These women were subjected to force only rape, where husbands use just enough force necessary to coerce their wives (Bergen, 2006). Many Bahamians, from clergymen to average citizens, repeated the theme of the act of rape itself as a form of violence, even when it is not accompanied by other physical violence. [r]ape, which is a crime of violence, must be defined, tried and punished as such. (Bonimy, 2009). However, at least one journalist framed the marital rape debate as divorced from, and somehow less important, than the real issue of street violence. In his Business section column, Financial Focus, Larry Gibson stated that issues such as the proposed marital rape law ... has seemingly gathered more traction than concerns over the steady diet of shootings and stabbings that we are being fed on a daily basis. It is the lack of public outrage [over the shootings and stabbings] that is conspicuously absent. (Gibson, 2009, p. 2B). Good for women and marriage In this category, researchers collapsed two themes: 27 ("the proposed law will strengthen marriage") and 31 ("the Bill promotes gender equality"). The first theme appeared relatively infrequently (a total of six times), and was mainly promulgated by the Minister for Social Services, Loretta Butler Turner, who proposed the 2009 Bill. The second theme appeared much more frequently, 25 times. Ryan states that the removal of the exemption in the United States was an important step towards equality within marriage. Without this historic right, the husband was no longer marriages sexual master. Rather, he was an equal sexual partner in marriage with no rights beyond those over his own person (Ryan, 1995, p. 995). Researchers found many examples of the equality theme appearing in the newspaper coverage of the debate. The Tribune quoted the Minister of Social Services, who introduced the legislation:
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 19 [the Bill] is not something we put forward without thought. This is a step forward for equality for women, to strengthen our families. It is an opportunity for us to defend all of our citizens equally (Nicholls, N., 2010). Furthermore, Rupert Missick, Jr., a chief reporter at The Tribune asserted that [t]here are no nuances. There are no shades of grey. There is no room left for interpretation. The bill seeks to give married women the same rights as their single counterparts the ability to see their rapist brought to justice even if he is a man she married (Missick, 2009, emphasis added). Missick was the was one of the only journalists who picked up on a key theme otherwise missing from the debate, that, under current Bahamian law, married women lose legal protection once they are married. Rights they had has single women are actively taken away from them. As Loretta Butler Turner, the Minister of Social Services, who introduced the legislation, pointed out, married women are the only "constituency in our community that is not protected against rape" (Dean, 2009, p.A1, para. 2). The Bible says Theme 6 (religious arguments and citations of scripture) played a major role in the newspaper coverage of the Bill, appearing 26 times, making it the third most popular theme. As can be gleaned from the frequency of the appearance of this theme, religious figures played a prominent role in the debate, being cited twice as often as politicians. It is important to note that religious arguments were used both in favour of and against the passing of the Bill. Officially, the Bahamas has no state religion but has an abiding respect for Christian values and the Rule of Law." (Commonwealth of the Bahamas, 1973). Bahamians in general interpret this sentence as a declaration that The Bahamas is a "Christian nation." Census reports concur with this declaration: in the 1990 Census, 88% of the Bahamian population identified as Christian (Department of Statistics, 2008a); in the 2000 Census, 96% of the population did. (Department of Statistics, 2008b) (Changes in reporting between the two census periods is likely to have influenced this statistical change. The 1990 Census offered 16 categories in total: 13 for Christian denominations, one for Jewish, one for "Other" and one for "None / Not Stated." In this case, "Other" could include those who were members of "other" Christian denominations or of "other" religions entirely. The 2000 census offered 20 categories for religious affiliation, including "Other Christian Denomination." This distinction may have helped capture those Christians who have been aggregated under the more general "Other" of the 1990 Census.)
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 20 With such a large proportion of Bahamians identifying themselves as Christian, it is not surprising that religious arguments were so common, and that Biblical arguments and the citation of scripture constituted such a large part of the debate over the marital rape legislation. The Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) was among the most prominent opponents of the bill. The BCC considers itself the voice of the Christian community. The BCC represents many of the smaller churches and denominations; the Catholic and Anglican churches are not members. The BCC's opinions are influential, particularly among members of the churches it represents, and the BCC is generally believed to have the ear of many in the government. Therefore, the BCCs opposition to the bill was significant and ran contrary to the opinions of the more historical Churches, such as the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and also the opinions of the Methodist and Seventh Day Adventist churches, who all publicly supported the Bill. Both newspapers consistently reported as news the opinions of the churches and the statements of clergymen and other religious figures. The official opinion of the BCC was published, in full length, in both newspapers and reference to that opinion was regularly made thereafter. Indeed, almost every article subsequent to its publication mentioned the BCC's opposition to the bill. The argument that religious beliefs and Biblical references should, perhaps, have little bearing on legislation and public policy in a secular society appeared rarely, and only in a few editorials or letters to the editor. There is very little research on the role of religion in marital rape, but the existing research takes a negative view of the churchs traditional role regarding the issue. Sheldon and Parents study of clergys attitude towards rape victims found that the more fundamentalist and sexist the clergy were, the more negative their attitudes towards rape victims .The results indicated that most clergy blame the victim and adhere to rape myths; therefore, they need to be more educated about sexual assault (Sheldon & Parent, 2002, p. 233) Sheldon and Parent (2002) also found that women who attend fundamentalist churches would be at a higher risk of receiving inadequate support, and therefore would suffer the effects of their victimization for longer periods of time. (2002, p. 246). These results may help explain the conflict between the BCC and the more historic churches over the legislation. Just the Facts, Ma'am Theme 5 included any evidence based articles (as opposed to opinion based ones) that cited data, either domestic or international. This theme appeared 12 times. A few articles cited local data regarding sexual assault and violence against women. No statistics specifically on marital
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 21 rape in The Bahamas were produced as no official statistics existed at the time of the debate. As there were no domestic statistics around which the debate could be centered, it is, perhaps, not surprising that it centered instead on opinion, stereotypes, religious arguments and deeply rooted beliefs about gender and marital relationships. Interestingly, data that was offered from international organizations and international agreements on human rights was at times viewed with suspicion in the newspaper coverage. The current law on sexual offences, which contains the marital rape exception, stands in direct contravention of the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. When a reporter from The Nassau Guardian pointed out this fact to Pastor Cedric Moss (a major opponent of the Bill), Moss cited the "broad feminist agenda that tends to run the U.N." (Lightbourne, 2009, p. A4) as reason for The Bahamas to not "even think about going down that road." (Lightbourne, 2009, p. A4) Show me the problem Researchers assigned theme 26 to articles demanding proof of or expressing skepticism that marital rape is enough of a problem in Bahamian society that new legislation is warranted. This theme appeared eight times. As discussed above, demands for domestic statistics would have been hard to meet as no official domestic statistics on marital rape existed at the time of the debate. As also discussed above, international data or international standards were met with suspicion, making it even more difficult to meet demands for proof. One letter to the editor questioned the government's interest in the issue, as though violence against women is a problem to be addressed only if a majority of citizens are interested (Bryan, 2009, p. B4). Other letter writers denied that marital rape was a problem, and suggested that the legislation was a "ploy," political sleight of hand, used to distract citizens from more pressing issues ("Readers have their say," 2009, p. 8C). In this vein, the same letter writer who expressed skepticism of the government's interest in the problem further blamed the proposed legislation on "foreign machinations" (Bryan, 2009, p. B4). Absent from the debate Bahamians perceive violence as a huge problem in their society. In one study, 74% of Bahamian voters believe that crime is an "extremely serious" issue (Plumridge & Fielding, 2009a, p. 45). Bahamians feel that the murder rate in their country is "out of control" ("Scared to death," 2009) and reports of violent crimes receive wide coverage in the newspapers and on the evening news. A study by Brennan, et al. (2010) supports the belief that violence is a problem in Bahamian society. Results show that domestic violence was present in 23% of the 889 Bahamian homes studied. Unpublished data from Plumridge & Fielding in a small survey of 44 married college students in The Bahamas stated that 31.3% of married college students had been sexually abused by their partner, as opposed to 13.3% of unmarried college students who had an intimate partner. (Plumridge & Fielding, 2009b).This small data sample suggests potentially high domestic levels of sexual abuse in marriage.Yet, for the most part, the authors
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 22 found that in the newspaper coverage, marital rape was not viewed as a domestic violence issue and marital rape was not framed in the newspaper coverage reviewed as a social or family problem. According to the 2000 Census, 70% of Bahamian women over the age of 15 have at least one child (Department of Statistics, 2008b). Therefore, a large number of households contain children, and it can be argued that those children are surely affected by violence in the household. The cycle of violence aspect of marital rape was raised only once in the newspaper coverage of the debate. A news report covering a press conference on the legislation highlighted "the connection between violence against women and children, and the degeneration of society" (Reynolds, 2009, para. 8). This article drew a clear line between marital rape as a form of family violence and the effect of that violence on children. If we have a large proportion of our women being abused as victims of sexual violence, how do we expect these individuals to lead normal lives and rear their children in a confident way? (Reynolds, 2009, para. 8) Bergen points out that little research has been conducted on the effects of marital rape on children of the marriage (Bergen, 2006). Bergen cites from one of the few studies in this area by Campbell and Alford (1989), that 5% of women in their study indicated that their children had been forced by their partner to participate in the sexual violence and 18% of the women indicated that their children had witnessed an incident of marital rape at least once (p. 5). Conclusions Many of the articles appearing in both of the Bahamian dailies, The Tribune in particular, repeated unfounded beliefs, unchallenged assumptions and illogical arguments offered by the general public. To simply repeat these arguments without any attempt to critically assess their quality or accuracy, serves to endorse and even to reinforce those arguments. Furthermore, providing equal coverage to factual claims and specious ones, without any attending critical analysis, lends credibility to the specious ones and perhaps even implies that all claims being reported have the same merit. Both the Tribune and the Nassau Guardian devoted a substantial part of their coverage to how the public or the churches felt about marital rape and marital relationships, rather than to an examination of substantive issues of the social and criminal element of the problem and of the proposed legislation. The way the newspapers covered the debate could be partly due to the lack of domestic data to justify supporting the Bill. In any event, even without local data, there is an argument that international data could have been cited more frequently. In addition, as highlighted above, researchers found that a large number of rape myths were frequently repeated in the newspaper coverage, which added to an element of public spectacle
Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 23 surrounding the newspaper coverage of the debate, rather than covering the proposed legislation as a serious attempt to address a serious crime. In the newspaper coverage of the marital rape debate in the Bahamas, researchers found that the overall coverage was in favour of the legislation, with 54% of newspaper pieces in favour of the Bill and 18% opposed to it, with 28% of articles putting forward a mix of views both for and against the Bill without expressly supporting either view. Among the articles only, fourteen were in favour of the Bill and only four against, with the majority of articles (42) presenting a mix of views. However, despite the a slight majority of pieces being in favour of the Bill, the authors found that most of the debate centered on personal opinion, religious justifications either for or against the Bill, or stereotypical beliefs about gender and marital relationships. Researchers found that there was a distinct lack of analysis in the newspaper coverage of the themes that were cited, particularly where those themes were rape myths. Researchers also found that there was a lack of local or international data presented, and an almost complete absence of the voice of law enforcement and their findings on the issue. Any attempt to re introduce the legislation in the future would benefit from Bahamian specific statistical evidence, and from research on the effects of marital rape on children in the home. To that end, efforts to collect data regarding the prevalence, severity and effects of marital rape in The Bahamas should be implemented. Acknowledgements The authors would like to thank William Fielding for suggesting this research topic and for his invaluable advice, and Heather A. LeGrand for her assistance with statistical analysis.
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Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Page | 29 Yllo, K. (1996). Marital rape Minneapolis, MN: Battered Women's Justice Project. Retrieved from http://www.bwjp.org/files/bwjp/articles/Marital_Rape.pdf
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