Marital Rape – Understanding what constitutes “Marital Rape” in Singapore


1. Overview

In June, Singapore stated that it was “actively working towards” repealing a law exempting husbands from being charged with raping their wives.

2. Legal Definition of Rape

2.1 What constitutes “Rape”?

Pursuant to Section 375(1) of the Penal Code in Singapore, rape is committed when a man penetrates a women’s vagina with his penis without her consent. Penetration of other parts of a woman’s body (such as her mouth or anus) with his penis without her consent does not constitute as rape. Instead, it is an offence known as unlawful sexual penetration (Section 376(1) of the Penal Code).

Both of these offences are liable to the same penalty, namely, imprisonment for a term of up to 20 years, which may include a fine or strokes of the cane (Section 375(2); Section 376(4) of the Penal Code).

Legally, a man cannot be raped as rape is defined as “penile penetration of a vagina“. However, men may be victims of unlawful sexual penetration.

2.2 Definition of Consent

Simply put, the definition of consent is agreement. If a woman consents to the penetration, there is no rape. Otherwise, rape or sexual assault has been committed.

It is important to note that a woman may consent to other intimate acts (such as kissing, touching) but that does not constitute consent to having sexual intercourse.

Consent may be withdrawn at any time – it is possible for a woman to consent to penetration at first and then change her mind. Any further penetration after a woman changes her mind constitutes to rape.

Also, the lack of objection (due to fear, trauma or unconsciousness) does not constitute to consent.

Moreover, under Singapore law, there will be no consent if the person giving the consent is so intoxicated to the point that she is unable to understand the nature and the consequence of the act.

3. Marital Rape

3.1 Origins and Developments of Marital Immunity for Rape

Marital immunity for rape in Singapore law dates back to a statement made by Sir Matthew hale, who was the Chief Justice of England form 1671 to 1676. He indicated that husbands could not be guilty of raping their wives as women gave consent for intercourse with their husbands through mutual matrimonial consent and marriage.

The following case of PP v NN is the only instance where the marital immunity for rape has been evoked in Singapore’s courts. It is depicted as follows – a couple got married in February but towards the end of the following year, the wife moved back to her maiden home along with their two-ear-old son. As their relationship became estranged, the wife suggested a divorce but she was met with a threat to kill her.

A few weeks later, the husband requested for a meet up and promised that it would be a civil and peaceful talk. However, they ended up quarreling and the husband dragged his wife into his car and drove them back to their marital home, where he bound and gagged her and forced her into engaging in sexual intercourse with him.

In an appeal, then Chief Justice Yong Pung How described the behaviour of the man as akin to an “uncivilized savage” and stated that “spousal violence should not and will not be tolerated as part of marital life”. Thus, he called the sentence of a S$4,000 by the district judge to be “manifestly inadequate”, stating that an offence committed to your own spouse should not be treated with less seriousness than one committed against a stranger.

Nevertheless, due to the marital immunity for rape, a total of 18 months’ imprisonment was added to the sentence. This seemed like a rather light sentence, considering that the maximum penalty for rape is 20 years.

3.2 Exceptions

Whilst the Ministry of Home Affairs emphasized that the total abolition of marital immunity would be too radical a step, they added some exceptions to marital immunity for rape in the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2007, enacted in February 2008 following a proposal from Leong Wai Kum and Debbie Ong.

Therefore, pursuant to Singapore law, no man will be guilty of rape against his wife if she was not 13 years old, except in the following circumstances (Section 375(4) of the Penal Code):

(a) The couple had been living apart
(b) The wife had applied for a divorce, separation, or personal protection order (PPO) prior to the alleged offence
(c) An injunction was in force to the effect of restraining the husband from having sexual intercourse with his wife

The Ministry of Home Affairs highlighted the importance of needing to strike a balance between women needing protection and the general concerns about conjugal rights and the expression of intimacy in a marriage, in fear that a complete abolishment of marital immunity may change the entire view of marriage in Singapore’s society.

Therefore, the amendments above provide the necessary protection for women in marriages at the brink of breakdown or have broken down, clearly indicating that her consent to intimate relations had been withdrawn.

4. Next Steps For You

If you feel that your husband has committed marital rape against you, do not be afraid to speak up. Confide in a close friend or family member, or consult a criminal lawyer if you would like to take action against your husband.

Being assaulted sexually is never your fault, but sometimes as a victim, you may feel all sorts of negative emotions such as embarrassment, worthlessness, depression or anger. Consider long-term counseling, which may help you deal with such emotions.

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