10 reasons to end marital immunity for rape

By AWARE Singapore

According to the Penal Code, “She’s my wife” can be a complete legal defence to charges of rape (s375). The Alliance of Like-Minded CSOs in Singapore (ALMOS), who collaborated in the submission of a shadow report to the UN for Singapore’s Universal Periodic Review, is calling for this to change. Here are ten reasons to support us.

  1. Everyone deserves protection from violence. Rape is violence. Spousal violence is unacceptable. No ifs, no buts, no excuses, no justifications.
  1. Horrifyingly, marital immunity applies to the Penal Code offence of sexual penetration of a minor under 16 (s376A). The immunity applies to minors aged 13 and above. We are not a humane society if our law makes special provision to excuse the rape of children.
  1. Rape within marriage is a reality, both globally and in Singapore. AWARE’s helpline and the Sexual Assault Care Centre encounter several such cases a year – and we believe many more go unreported precisely because the law says it’s not really rape. 
  1. Protection from violence shouldn’t depend on prior paperwork. The law recognises rape within marriage only if proceedings for divorce, separation or a personal protection order began before the attack. (More on the law.) 
  1. Consent matters. The government told the UN that this paperwork “clearly signal[s] that [a wife’s] consent to conjugal relations has been withdrawn”. Surely it should be good enough to say “no”, “stop”, “not tonight”, “I don’t feel like it”…? How can we promote a culture of consent and mutual respect if our law codifies this kind of disrespect?
  1. Marriage mustn’t nullify women’s fundamental rights. It’s 2015 – five decades since the Women’s Charter declared that spouses “shall have equal rights in the running of the matrimonial household.” The Penal Code should follow suit. The idea that marriage takes away the right to say “no” is out of step with societal values, which cherish equality and autonomy. 
  1. We should encourage reporting. In Singapore, as all over the world, most rapes go unreported. Marital immunity for rape contributes to a hostile societal atmosphere which suggests that rape won’t be taken seriously – deterring reporting.
  1. Lesser charges aren’t good enough. A rapist who attacks his wife may be convicted of voluntarily causing hurt (s321) or wrongful restraint (s241), as in the landmark case of PP v N (1999). But these carry much lighter penalties than rape or sexual penetration of a minor. We should call rape what it is. 
  1. Removing marital immunity means allowing due process. As with rape outside marriage – or other offences with no marital immunity – due process would apply. To secure a conviction, the prosecution must prove its case in a court of law.
  1. Singapore ought to keep pace with the rest of the world. Our marital rape law is out of step with many other countries, including other Asian countries such as the Philippines and Hong Kong. We have been repeatedly questioned about this at the United Nations. It is time to join the international community in recognising the human rights of women to live free of sexual violence.

For more information about sexual assault and AWARE’s specialist services for those who have faced sexual assault (including within marriage), visit the new Sexual Assault Care Centre website.

You can also find out more from No To Rape, a 2009 volunteer-led campaign against marital immunity for rape.