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Marital rape and the presumption of consent July 2, 2009

Posted by laïcité in Feminism v Patriarchy, Singapore.
Tags: , ,

Maybe I have been too engrossed in the Aware saga, but I realize that many of my posts have been about homosexual issues, even though I am not homosexual myself. Today, after stumbling upon NoToRape.com (a campaign started by Jolene of Glass Castle) I decided to address a topic that hits much closer to home, but receives a lot less airtime: marital rape.


In Singapore, it is legal to rape your wife. That special contract that we call marriage not only has economic and cultural significance, it also grants men immunity from being charged for the rape of their wives. In giving them this immunity, the inherent message is that men are entitled to have sex with their wives, regardless of the latter’s consent.


Now, any decent, civilized person would be appalled at that archaic notion. It reeks way too much of the obsolete (and misogynic) idea that marriage is the transfer of ownership of a woman and her body from her father to her husband, thereby entitling her husband to sex as and when he pleases. Many Western countries have now recognized that marital rape is contrary to human rights and have criminalized the practice. Even England, from which Singapore’s marital rape exemption originated, abolished the exemption in 1991. But yet again, the Singapore government holds its conservative position and is against the repeal of this archaic law which protects husbands from being charged for rape, on the basis of “family values”.


How does permitting marital rape preserve “family values”? Well, their argument goes something like this: marital rape is a private affair and should be sorted out amicably by the couple involved (Funny how that logic doesn’t apply to homosexual sex) and the law should not interfere so as not to disrupt the traditional family unit which is the building block of society.


But what exactly are we preserving here? The notion that women are property, for their husbands to do whatever they see fit with them? The conservation of marriages involving abusive husbands? The perpetuation of misogynic messages and abusive behavior to be passed on to these couples’ children? Only with our conservative government’s logic would a woman staying with an abusive husband be viewed as a positive thing. It seems that the government sees the absence of reported marital rape as a good thing in itself, conveniently forgetting that simply not recognizing an act as criminal does not make it any less harmful, or cause it to occur any less frequently.


At the heart of the marital rape exemption is the issue of presumed consent. The marital rape exemption is usually justified by the assumption that marriage implies consent to sexual intercourse. On the surface, this seems quite reasonable. After all, we do not expect our husbands or wives (or even boyfriends or girlfriends), with whom we are in a long term sexual relationship, to ask for permission at the initiation of every instance of sexual intercourse. In fact, I do not think it is uncommon for such presumed “green lights” for assumed consent to exist within individual long term sexual relationships, where prior informal arrangements are made such that consent to sex can be assumed.


But such presumed “green lights” to sex are not concrete. There always exists a partner’s right to give a “red light” at any time he or she wishes. Regardless of whether consent was presumed, as long as you refuse someone’s request to stop doing something to them, you are committing an offence against his or her personal sovereignty. By retaining the marital rape exemption, we are effectively saying that marriage switches on a permanent “green light” to sex, and women are left without any option to retract this “green light” and say “No”. This notion is exemplified by the statement made by England’s former Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale:

the husband cannot be guilty of a 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.”

Marriage was and is treated as a kind of “automatic” consent to sexual intercourse which cannot be revoked. Women were and are mere sex objects for their husbands, with no power or right to refuse sex.


By keeping the marital rape exemption, we are allowing men, especially abusive men, to make the claim of prior consent (by marriage) and basically protecting those who carry out the intentional rape of their wives. In my opinion, regardless of all potential problems (difficulty to prosecute, potential for false accusations, compromising of “family values” – all of which apply to many other crimes as well, I might add), it is not justifiable for the law to give immunity to someone who commits abusive acts. Dropping the presumption of consent would reduce the possibility that such abuse would continue with impunity.


No matter how offensive or inoffensive we find the notion of marriage implying presumed consent, this is ultimately an issue of choice. The marital rape exemption denies a woman the option of saying “No” to her husband. And in doing so, it legitimizes an abuser’s actions to violate his wife’s personal sovereignty over her own body. It is simply preposterous that this form of violation can be passed off as a “private issue” in the name of Family Values.


If you believe that the marital rape exemption should be repealed, and that marital rape should be a crime, I urge you to sign the petition here.


1. The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Daily SG: 2 Jul 2009 - July 2, 2009

[…] Discourse – Laïcité: Marital rape and the presumption of consent – groundnotes: Citizen Shoppers – the kent ridge common: A comparison of CEP qualities adopted by […]

2. hafio - July 2, 2009

people, please be more current with the penal code of Singapore


under penal code 375 section 4c or however you are supposed to quote it… take a look people.

3. contract with state - July 3, 2009

just say no to marriage

4. The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Weekly Roundup: Week 27 - July 4, 2009

[…] – The Gigamole Diaries: Cat poisoning in Bayshore? Get those pest busters… – Laïcité: Marital rape and the presumption of consent – groundnotes: Citizen Shoppers – the kent ridge common: A comparison of CEP qualities adopted by […]

5. Lee Chee Wai - July 4, 2009

I don’t agree with the idea that “On the surface” marital rape seems quite reasonable. In any moment of intimacy, one initiates affection through touch or other cues. Reciprocation is easily recognized. There’s no need to ask explicitly … actually, personally, that’s quite a turn-off :P.

Marital rape really belongs to the dark ages of human history. Speaking as a man, if your wife consistently rejects your sexual advances then there’s something wrong with the marriage which has to be fixed or addressed.

Are there any statistics on incidents of marital rape in Singapore? Or do these cases simply not show up because it is not against the law?

laïcité - July 5, 2009

@Chee Wai

Actually maybe I wasn’t too clear with what I meant when I said that it seemed reasonable “on the surface”. What I meant was that in the context of an existing sexual relationship, it is definitely possible for there to be presumed consent, when we compare this situation with that of a relationship with no prior agreement on this issue. For example, in an existing sexual relationship, putting your hand on your wife’s breast without asking permission would not be defined as “molest” becuse there was a prior informal agreement and familiarity, whereas it would be totally different with a stranger or in a new relationship.

Similarly, depending on prior agreements made within individual relationships, someone may be perfectly fine with the idea being “woken up by sex” (or any other situation where there was no explicit or subtle “asking of permission”), whereas in other relationships that may be a no-no. But my point was that even in the first scenario, that arrangement would not invalidate the concept of marital rape, because at any point there is still the right to say no, and in any circumstance it is still an obligation for the initiator to respect his or her partner’s right to say no.

Regarding statistics on marital rape in Singapore, as far as I know, I think you are right. Because it is not illegal, these reports do not show up, and instead we tend to rely on reports of sexual assault. I think you can find more information about this matter on the website that I mentioned, notorape.com

6. Flash - July 7, 2009

Great post!

7. John Thames - November 15, 2009

The woman who wrote this nonsense cannot think straight.

The real issue is: Why should a wife be paid for sexual services she does not have to perform? If a man offers a woman one-half of everything he owns to access her vagina whenever he feels like it, he should not have to take a rain check for what he has already bargained for. Suppose a man goes to a prostitute who tells him: “I want X dollars. But I don’t feel like it today. I will keep the money; you come back in two weeks time – and then I will give you what you paid for.” Ridiculous? Not at all. That is precisely what a woman who wants one-half of everything as the price of her twat – without putting out if she doesn’t feel like it – wants.

A prostitute is actually a better deal than a wife. She only gets paid if she puts out – which is more than one can say for a spousal rape wife.

laïcité - February 7, 2010

Haha. If you see a wife as equivalent to a prostitute, who is supposed to supply you with sexual services in return for half of everything you own, then we are talking about different definitions altogether. You are welcome to remain in the 15th century, but i’d rather live in a more civilized world where women are not sex slaves and men are not wallets.

Loh - September 26, 2010

Well then, if this is true then i suppose poor men are unlikely to get married. Who wants a pittance for such a deal?

And if all a man wants is sexual services, it seems ridiculous to pay half your fortune for one woman all the time when you can pay less for a different woman everytime. In fact, why get married at all?

If you get married, you pledge certain things. And in a marriage, the wife isn’t the only one who is supposed to respect your wishes. LIVE WITH IT. And our laws should change to reflect that.

8. John Thames - March 14, 2010

Dear Lactite:

The issue is: Why pay for what you don’t get?

laïcité - March 14, 2010

I suppose you see marriage as a form of prostitution. Just another way to pay for sex. Just another way of treating women as property.

A lot of other people don’t view marriage that way. They see it as a partnership between equals. An efficient economic arrangement. A convenient means to raise children. Most people would even put the element of “love” into the equation. In civilized societies, marriage is no longer linked to the “right” to sex. Civilized people do not force other human beings into having sex with them, regardless of whether those other human beings are married to them.

What you describe doesn’t sound like marriage. It sounds like livestock trade. With all due respect, may I suggest that prostitution would be a better option for you.

Anurag - June 4, 2010

And then there should be law against the Marital Molestation. And Husband should always walk around with a Lawyer in the tow. So as to get a written consant. Who know at what time she will turn around and cry RAPE.

Also Will this law be applicable to Women as well. Why only women are considered victims.

laïcité - June 4, 2010

Technically the law does not protect husbands who molest their wife. Unlike the laws for rape, there is no clause which states that husbands are immune to being charged with molest. Yet we hear of no cases where husbands are convicted for, or even accused of molesting their wives. So your fear of women misusing such a law is baseless.

I’m not an expert on this, but I do know that even for acquaintence/friend/boyfriend rape, the percentage of cases that result in conviction is extremely low, because it is too difficult to prove the rape beyond reasonable doubt. I would expect the percentage of conviction for marital rape to be at least as low, or if not lower, simply because of the he-said-she-said nature of most rapes. So I don’t think there is any reason for concern if the husband is innocent.

I agree that men can be victims of rape as well. But in Singapore at least, rape is defined as involving penetration by a penis, so it can only be committed by a man. It is only after the definition is changed that male victims can be more readily identified and protected.

9. Lilian - July 5, 2010

I agree 100% with you that marriage does not make men immune to rape. At least the law in Uganda provides for equal rights to both men
and women during and at resolution of marriage, hence women too have a right to consent to sex during marriage!.
I am writing a research paper on a need to criminalize marital rape in Uganda… i will appreciate to get more material on this. Thank you in advance.

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