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The phenomenon of marital rape

Once again the topic arises. Once again the people sneer, laugh and jeer... or simply give a blank stare as if to say: What are you talking about? When it comes to being blind to atrocities, Ugandans have mastered the art.


In Uganda, marital rape is not a crime. This emanates from the common law presupposition that a woman at marriage consents to all forms of sexual intercourse with her husband. The assumption is that the man is good willed and the law need not regulate this private arena.

Incidents like that of Mama Nakalembe are completely blocked out. Mama Nakalembe would have two hitches here; she was penetrated by an object and not a penis. Her husband did the penetration.

At law at best he would be convicted of the minor cognate offence of sexual assault under Section 128 of the Penal Code. He also could get away with it because Ugandan law does not yet envision situations when a man can rape his wife.

Many jurisdictions have changed the law to recognize and punish marital rape. In R v R (1991) the House of Lords for the first time rebuffed the assumption that a wife at marriage has impliedly consented to sex with her husband.

The judgment delivered by  Lord Keith of Kinkel stated that the contortions being performed in the lower courts in order to avoid applying the marital rights exemption were indicative of the absurdity of the rule, and held, agreeing with earlier judgments in Scotland and in the Court of Appeal in R v R, that “the fiction of implied consent has no useful purpose to serve today in the law of rape” and that the marital rights exemption was a “common law fiction” which had never been a true rule of English law.

R’s appeal was accordingly dismissed, and he was convicted of the rape of his wife. The court further recognized that Common Law was capable of revolving in light of social and cultural aspects, and that marriage is now a partnership of equals and there is no reason why marital rape cannot be recognized.

Marital rape has been criminalized in South Africa under the Domestic Relations Act 2000 and in Namibia under the Combating of Rape Act 2001. This was mainly due to the high HIV infection rates in these countries. In Uganda, many married women find it hard to negotiate condom use.

“Men do not like condoms. How do you even begin to tell your husband to use a condom? He will think you are cheating on him,” voices 45-year-old Adong who is married with four children.

A number of women interviewed said they would like to postpone sexual intercourse with their husbands, especially when there is suspected infidelity, until they both know their status. They, however, do not know how to go around this, and the few who dare are raped into submission.

Uganda’s HIV rates continue to stagnate at 6%. Married people are the highest risk group accounting for 43% of the new infections.

Angola, Rwanda, Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe are the other African countries that have criminalised marital rape.

People who are raped by people with whom they had an intimate sexual relationship before have their trauma compounded by other series of abusive incidents since marital rape is usually but a part of an entire abusive relationship.

In most cases they do not even realize that a crime has been committed against them. Thus the crime is usually repeated worsening marital woes.

Myths about Rape

a) Only girls can be raped
b) Rape must involve use of physical force
c) A person raped must scream
d) A husband cannot rape his wife

e) Women provoke rape by what they wear and how they act
f) Rape must involve penile vaginal penetration
g) Women desire to be raped
h) Rape is best solved as a private family matter
i) A woman must always be raped in sleeping position
j) The man must ejaculate for it to be rape

After you have been raped;
-Go somewhere safe
-Do not shower
-Do not comb your hair
-Do not change clothes or shoes

-Do not douche or use antiseptic tissue wipes
-Go to a government doctor (government hospital or clinic) for a checkup
-Get tested for HIV
-If you are negative you will be given post-exposure prophylaxis to reduce your risk of getting infected
-Get treated for STIs

-Get emergency contraception
-Report to the Police and take with you recorded medical evidence
-File a complaint and make a statement at the Police
-Seek counseling
-Seek help from trusted friends and family
-Keep a positive attitude and hope that you will heal and get justice

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