Thursday 28 May, 2020

'No means no, even in marriage': Lawmakers consider proposed changes

Olivia Grange

Olivia Grange

If the Parliament accepts the recommendations of a joint select committee that examined four companion pieces of legislation related to sexual offences and gender-based violence, Jamaican husbands will soon be forced to accept that whenever their wives say no to sex, it means no.

In fact, the Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia Grange, implored her fellow parliamentarians to empower women in this regard.

She was speaking on Tuesday in the House of Representatives as she made her contribution in to the debate on the report of the committee that examined the Sexual Offences Act, the Offences Against the Person Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Child Care and Protection Act.

As she rose to make her contribution, Grange said: “I speak for every woman, every child, every victim and survivor of gender-based violence, every victim of sexual offences, every victim of domestic violence and every child in need of care and protection”.

The minister pointed out that some traditional beliefs militate against efforts to protect the most vulnerable.

“For instance, we found in the Women's Health Survey of 2016 that 31.4 per cent of women believed that a wife is obligated to have sex with her husband whenever he wants.

“We are moving to end that. And I am in full support of the proposal to amend the law to make it quite clear that 'no means no' even, in a marriage,” Grange stated.

In common law, rape could not be committed in a marriage.

Grange emphasised that the aim of the proposed amendments is to protect the most vulnerable in the society including children, pregnant women, the elderly over 70 years and persons with mental and physical disabilities.

“The most vulnerable have been subjected to the most heartless, callous, horrific and brutal crimes,” said Grange.

“I am therefore satisfied that the review is a comprehensive one, which reiterates the Government's commitment to tackling the monster of gender-based violence, and I invite all Parliamentarians to endorse the report and become an integral part of the awareness-raising which will be part of the next steps,” Grange added.

She stressed that pregnant women were particularly at risk as many victims of sexual violence report that the beating they received started after they became pregnant.

The gender minister noted that the amendments to the legislation include an aggravating sentence when crimes are committed against those deemed to be most vulnerable.

“We have proposed a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in those circumstances,” she told the House.

Grange pointed to statistics that show that one in every four women in Jamaica has experienced physical violence by a male partner and one in every five report being sexually abused before reaching the age of 18. Additionally, half of those who have been abused remain with the abuser for various reasons.

It has been proposed that the fine for an abuser who breaches a protection order from the courts be increased from $10,000 to $500,000. And there is also a proposal to widen the category of persons who can apply for a protection order for a victim, to include the minister with responsibility for gender affairs.

Grange stated that the review of the Sexual Offences Act signals a “significant legislative development as it examines the technological implication of sexual exploitation in contemporary societies.”

“It acknowledges that social media can be used as a tool by which the sexual grooming of a child can take place,” she said while stating that the proposed amendments provide provisions for the protection of the child in the digital space.

“Additionally, predatory sexual assault and seduction of children under 16 were also added as new offences,” Grange said.

Meanwhile, the committee has also recommended the establishment of a sex offenders’ registry. Failure to register will constitute an offence punishable by imprisonment.

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