A Haunting, Elusive Justice

By Rahwa Alibekit. Rahwa, 21, is a student at the School of Law, Adi Keih College of Arts and Social Science. She lives in Asmara, Eritrea. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.




Martin Luther King Jr.

“The rape was happened on a Friday night in February 2008. […] Where he came back home intoxicated [and] physically assaulted me over a period of seven hours and finally raped me. I called the police. […] Two officers explain to me the fact that while lawful marriage still exist there is no so called rape in marriage, … […] Admittedly, while it was as hard for me to be subjective that morning, as it is still now – the police were not offended by this cruel and violent act, rather they spent their efforts that morning… humiliating me – in diminishing the occurrences of that night to something insignificant and of little consequence, while to me, the events of that night had possibly more reverberations onto my life than any other event of my thirty-three years. It was also the first time I had ever felt ashamed to be a woman. […] …the judge also seemed not to take my abuse seriously which was absolutely devastating when he reiterated what the officers already told me and did not offer me the protection and justice I had literally begged for.” (Juliette Maugham, Domestic Violence in Barbados: Who Will Protect the Victim)

The quote above is the simple quintessence of the ubiquitous venom of marital rape that is inflicted on women around the globe. It is a ruthless delinquency which does not get much attention, is tolerated by society and is still not criminalized in many countries, like Eritrea.  The quote tells the story of one poor women who became a victim of this legal crime in Barbados – she was struggling to raise her voice to request protection, relief, uprightness and justice for her sexual and reproductive autonomy, her equality under the law, self-determination, dignity, psychological and physical integrity, but unfortunately her voice did not get heard.  She could not get relief due to the legal fact that anything which is not prohibited by the law is permitted. Accordingly, as marital rape was not prohibited by the law, her husband’s act was not illegal.

While engaging in uncompromising discussion about the application of King’s quote to marital rape with some of my friends, most of them boys but also including a  few conservative ladies, they attempted to apprise me that I should not be talking about the exception of marital rape as an injustice imposed on women. As a matter of fact, they staunchly told me that if I had to argue something about this quote, I should stick to the issue of racial justice. This is  lamentable, because the splendiferous quote of the Reverend King applies far and wide and to anything that entails injustice; to any law which favours one group and lower others based on culture, race, religion, social status or sex.

Imagine that you were one of the police officers or the judge who told the victim from the above quote that marital rape is not a crime. Imagine besides that the victim was your sister, your only beloved daughter,  your neighbour or your close friend, and that she came crying to you for your help or advice alleging that her husband committed rape. Imagine she said that it  was painful, hurt her acutely and that she would suffer aching wounds as a result. Imagine she told you that whenever she was uncomfortable and resisted to submitting herself to sex, he severely exploded and used various forms of violence to satisfy himself, and that her silence has been killing her slowly and started to distort her personality.

When she voices her wretched life to you, claiming that he suffocates her every night while he forces himself onto her; when she expresses her unfaithful husband’s shocking and scandalous act through which she was infected with sexually transmitted diseases; when she tells you that as a consequence of her infection she miscarried four months into a pregnancy when she was looking forward to kiss her first child, when she tells you melancholily that she cannot give birth in the future because her womb was damaged due to the forced sex what would be your answer? What would be your answer when you see tears pouring down her face, when she commences to curse and blame herself for merely being a woman? And when she pleadingly asks you to arrest or to sentence her ruffian husband so that he is punished based on the law for his ill treatment? Could you patently give her a more lamentable and deplorable answer than “it is not proscribed by law and as such your husband can’t be punished legally”?

Besides, envisage that a four=year old girl, long-haired with a plump, rounded face and freckles, had witnessed the marital rape scene and imagine that you were the uncle or grandfather of the child. After the scene, your niece or granddaughter asks you quite a striking question why dad was doing this to mom. Whether they do not love each other… Why mom was crying incessantly… Why mom was bleeding… At that juncture, what answer would you provide to the child? Obviously your tongue would be twisted, and you as a police officer or a judge would understand the victim and find it exigent to punish her husband and as such obtain justice.

As is shown vividly by the quote, the police officers were not offended by the cruel and violent act of the victim’s husband. The same holds true in those countries which still consider marital rape legal, at the expense of women’s right to equality, sexual and reproductive autonomy, physical self-determination, dignity and psychological and physical integrity.

There is one thing that merits more than a fleeting glimpse and readily begs a meticulous thoughtfulness, and that is we do not have to allow injustice to take place in any part of the world, to any individual irrespective of his or her nationality, race, culture, religion, social status, or sex. We have to persistently and staunchly oppose injustice whenever we see it, regardless of whether it happens in the Far East, Middle East, Europe, North or South America, or Africa. We have to condemn those individuals who are benefiting at the expense of other peoples’ rights; we have to steadfastly denounce and convict those who rape and cause physical and psychological injury to their wives and expose them to various hardships like sexually transmitted diseases, forced pregnancy, miscarriage, and permanent gynaecological problems.

Exempting marital rape from criminalization is endangering and jeopardizing the life of women. It is also allowing cold-hearted men to think that it is alright to act unjustly towards their wife, to convey the message that such acts of aggression are somehow less reprehensible than other types of rape, and importantly, indicative of the archaic understanding that wives are the property of their husbands, and that the marriage contract is still an entitlement to sex (Russell, 1990).

Until we act instantaneously to disrupt this kind of attitude from the face of the earth and make every effort for equal justice, it will continue to hurt many women in places where marital rape is still not criminalized. I am still single, though I am very hopeful that my husband will be virtuous. However, until marital rape is not criminalized, I might be one of those women who will not get any relief for the cruel crime because as a matter of course my country, Eritrea, at this moment does not criminalize marital rape. Hence, what Martin Luther King Jr., using his splendiferous quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, tried to articulate is that if we see injustice being done to anyone in any part of the world, we have to oppose. We have to raise our voice to advocate for equal justice as a matter of course, because if we fail to do so, it will end up harming us directly.

Non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, fairness, integrity and equality between women and men are some of the building blocks and fundamental preconditions for a just and democratic society. On the contrary, discrimination, prejudice, intolerance, injustice, and inequality are amongst the dangerous termites for the overall existence of democracy in a society. When it comes to marital rape, the price women pay that are living in countries that still do not criminalize this is  without panacea. Only criminalization of marital rape will uplift the status of married women and guarantee enjoyment of their rights, by providing an avenue for them to seek justice and raise their voice against it.

4 comments on “A Haunting, Elusive Justice

  1. luli on

    After reading the article, the only thing that I can say is you already win the competition. And the reason is simply lucid because the topic is timely relevant and your analysis and holistically the flow of idea one after another absolutely brilliant. You expitate it in a very consice and brife way. And on the initial inscription of the essay the editor claim that this essay is not suitable, but i totally disagree because this essay is insightful in a way which can shape the nascent minds of many young individuals, because they are the future father’s. You did an excellent work Rahwit.

  2. Tiffany on

    Rahwit you are not only a lawyer but also an excellent with full bright writer. I wish wish wish wish wish wish wish wish wish many individuals read this exceptional essay, because this is not merely an essay, it is a real life drama which is summarized in three pages. This piece of essay cries for equal justice among man and women. And on the point that this essay is not suitable to young audience, I agree with luli because this essay is not an ordinary essay it has something curry powder on it which will help the evolving young minds to be polite, modest, humble and self effacing.

  3. Okubalidet Manna on

    It is bold and delicate matter to raise an injustice that somehow taken it is within the range of normality. I really enjoyed this article.
    Well done.
    Courage is of no value without justice, yet you need to be just to be courageous.
    Thank you for being just.


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