Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bring Back Common Sense!

There is an old adage that runs along the lines of “Sex Sells.” This has proved to be exceedingly accurate during the past week when the topic of budget hotels and prostitution was a hot topic in the media. Mention sex or any topic related to sex and you are bound to get an animated discussion.

While topics around sex are very interesting, one topic seems to have escaped the media spotlight and there have been no discussions on the topic for the last three years. This is a pity because attitudes towards the laws on sex provide us with an insight into our society.

Our social and legal views on prostitution are interesting. It is legally acceptable for a woman to work as a prostitute and for a man to visit one. It is illegal to be a pimp and for prostitutes to solicit customers. Social attitudes are also similar. Few if any will openly defend prostitution and most if not all are horrified at the idea of prostitution in their neighbourhoods. However, there is a mild social tolerance for prostitution, best summed up by the phrase, “wink-wink-nudge-nudge, boys will be boys.”

Unfortunately, this attitude live-and-let-live doesn’t carry into other areas of sexual behaviour. Take the issue of homosexual acts. In Singapore it is illegal for two consenting adult men to engage in a private act in the privacy of their own bedroom and when the government tried to review this in 2007, there was a huge outcry from a large enough segment of the population for the government to continue outlawing a private act between two consenting adults in the privacy of their bedroom, though the government promised not to enforce the law.

By contrast, there has been a deafening silence on the issue of marital rape. There has been little if any media attention to the issue and the religious groups that were so adamant about the moral corruption of legalising a private act amongst consenting adults are noticeably silent when it comes to an act of coercion. Just as it is illegal for two consenting homosexual adults to engage in a private act, it is legal for a man to force his wife into having sex, regardless of whether she gives her consent.

So, when is rape, something which most understand to be an act of violence against women, not rape? As far as places like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Singapore are concerned; the answer is when the attacker is the woman’s husband. This is convenient for those compiling rape statistics. Statistics have shown that rape is usually done by someone close to the victim like a family member or a friend. So, given that most perpetrators are likely to be known to the victim, granting immunity from marital rape makes sense – it reduces rape statistics because a certain portion of rapes are technically not rape. Once again, the “conservative” lobby that fought so hard to keep a private act between consenting adult illegal don’t seem to have a problem with rape, provided a man does it to his lawfully wedded wife. The government that has done so much to enhance the standing of women with the “Women’s Charter,” doesn’t seem terribly bothered that marriage grants men the right to rape them.

Isn’t it time we look at our laws and attitudes towards sex and start to apply the common sense that we are claim to have in abundance. Let’s have laws that actually protect people instead of providing cheap demagogues with a platform.

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