By Ila Ananya
What kind of laws do we have for marital rape in the world?
Foreign Policy has a new map of countries that permit marital rape, or offer rapists a way to avoid punishment (including by marrying the rape survivors). It’s based on data taken from ‘The World’s Shame: The Global Rape Epidemic,’ published by Equality Now, which surveyed lawyers from 82 jurisdictions across the world.
Depressingly, what jumps out at you from the map is how few countries have expressly criminalized marital rape. Most countries either didn’t explicitly address marital rape as a crime, or saw it as a crime only if the people involved were separated (as in India’s case, even though it isn’t explicitly decriminalised). In at least 12 countries, marital rape is decriminalised, and in at least nine countries, rapists can marry the survivor to avoid punishment.
In four of the countries where marital rape is legal, this is also true when the survivor is a child “bride”. The data even shows that a perpetrator can be exempt from punishment if a “settlement” is reached with the survivor or her family in at least 12 countries. If it is paid sex with a minor, the penalties imposed on perpetrators is much less than other forms of rape of a minor girl.
The other findings of the Equality Now study remind us of the horrifying book on rape laws in India by Mrinal Satish. It seems like we can’t repeat enough times that rape in India, and in other countries, is treated as a moral issue rather than violence—the data shows that this is true in at least 15 countries. The burdensome manner in which survivors are required to produce evidence exist in countries across the world, including Yemen, Peru, and Pakistan. In these countries, no rape case can be filed without a medical examiner’s report. But what happens if women file cases sometime after the incident? And as in India, countries like Bolivia, Spain and Morocco leave the judges to use their own discretion to punish the perpetrator, which means that they can be easily influenced by terrible stereotypes about how a survivor must behave.
How do we begin to address violence against women if countries don’t fix their laws and implement them sensitively?