Any piece of legislation that addresses the issue of sex is bound to be met with controversy. This is only magnified in countries that promote policies that run against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) members of their population. Stakeholders like the Church, for instance, police morality by prohibiting any form of same-sex intimacy.
Today, terms like “sex” and “rape” are only viewed in the heterosexual prism—that is, only men and women legally engage in sexual activity. When these definitions were conceptualized, our awareness of the many ways in which people exercise their sexual freedom was perhaps very limited. But in 2012, despite cultural awareness to the contrary, much legislation does not deviate from conventional paradigms.
Beginning in 1927 in the United States, rape was defined as the “carnal knowledge of a woman, forcibly and against her will.” The Obama administration, however, expanded that definition to include more forms of sexual assault such as rape of men and oral or anal sex. According to Vice President Biden, "this long-awaited change to the definition of rape is a victory for women and men across the country whose suffering has gone unaccounted for over 80 years."
As the U.S. exhibits progress in LGBT inclusion, this change merits a thorough examination of the varying legislative definitions of sex and rape in Caribbean nations.
Jamaica, for instance, remains far antiquated. (See my previous post on this issue.) When the Sexual Offences Act of 2009 was being drafted, the Jamaican Parliament kept gender-specific language in the legislation out of fear of allowing buggery to be legal through the back door.
In Trinidad & Tobago, while there is no clear definition of sexual intercourse in the Sexual Offences Act of 1986, it interestingly categorizes the acts of buggery and bestiality as intercourse. According to Part I(4) of the Act:
“a person (“the accused”) commits the offence of rape when he has sexual intercourse with another person (“the complainant”)” without the consent of the complainant or with the consent of the complainant where the consent is extorted by threat or fear of bodily harm, obtained by personating someone else, obtained by false or fraudulent representations as to the nature of the intercourse; or by unlawfully detaining the complainant.”
Note that although the definition appears to be gender neutral, the Trinidadians refer to “the accused” as male using “he”—a specific gender pronoun.
In Antigua & Barbuda, the 1995 Sexual Offences Act is similar to that of Trinidad & Tobago, especially in relation to rape by consent. However, while it maintains rape is perpetrated against a female, it is specific in stating this is where the female is not the wife of the male. Otherwise, if the wife doesn’t give consent to her husband, it is classified as a sexual assault.
Compared to these anachronistic Caribbean policies, Barbados has the most gender-neutral definition of rape. Its legislation states:
“Any person who has sexual intercourse with another person without the consent of the other person and who knows that the other person does not consent to the intercourse or is reckless as to whether the other person consents to the intercourse is guilty of the offence of rape and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life.”
In addition, unlike Antigua & Barbuda, a husband in Barbados can also be charged for rape if he has non-consensual sex with his wife. This is the same case in Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago.
The challenge is that very little is said about how these laws possibly influence certain aspects of our social mores around heterosexual relationships, gender stereotypes, the disempowerment of women, misconceptions of masculinity and femininity and the marginalization of men. Laws around sexual offences seemingly, too often, treat women as powerless and the subject of alpha males.
Ultimately, the question that we need to ask ourselves is: How do we advance as a society in the promotion of empowerment of women and men and debunking delusions about masculinity and femininity when our laws perpetuate these misconceptions?
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