During debate Tuesday on a bill to remove V.I. law exempting spouses from several categories of sexual assault and rape, Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen said she did not understand how sex between spouses can be rape, before voting against the measure.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Sammuel Sanes adds in its summary "protections for spouses, men and women, who are the victims of actions that constitute rape or unlawful sexual contact in aggravated domestic violence instances." [Bill no. 30-0060]
Currently in the V.I. Code, the definitions of aggravated rape, rape in the second and third degree, and unlawful sexual contact all explicitly say it is only rape or sexual assault if the victim is "not the perpetrator’s spouse." The definition of first degree rape does not include this language. Sanes’ bill simply deletes the phrases "and not the perpetrator’s spouse" from each offense definition.
The language change will not have a major impact on how police enforce the law, Sanes and V.I. Police Sgt. Deborah Hodge-Jack said during the hearing.
"Justice will still prevail, but that this language remains is an insult to our society" and "is an embarrassment in this day and age," Sanes said.
Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly asked for clarification about how police approach spousal rape accusations.
Hodge-Jack said the VIPD uses the first degree rape statute in spousal rape cases and charges for aggravating factors under the territory’s domestic violence statutes.
"So absent the changes proposed today, you have been able to take care of this using that part of the statute?" O’Reilly asked.
"That is correct," Hodge-Jack said.
Hansen announced she did not understand how a wife could be raped by a husband. She then qualified that slightly, saying "if it is forcefully against the will of a spouse then that is a problem. But if a woman says no and he still wants something, I don’t know how you can call it rape. Maybe because I am not a "no" person, I don’t know."
Both Hodge-Jack and Assistant Human Services Commissioner Carla Benjamin, who was also testifying on the bill, gasped at Hansen’s comments.
"I find those comments so disturbing and I know that not understanding contributes to that," Hodge-Jack said.
No one is calling the VIPD to report a rape when they were not in the mood, but relented and consented, she said. "No one is going to report that," she said.
"The reports that come to us are much more serious," she said, describing situations where women have been threatened or physically forced and have no place to go and no resources.
"Well she should get rid of him," Hansen said.
"It is not that simple ma’am," said Hodge-Jack, going on to describe some of the harrowing situations women have been placed in and the reasons they may not leave, from death threats to lack of any place to go.
"Those are extreme and I understand cases like that because I have worked cases like those," Hansen said. "But some of them just like it. They are the ones that need to be educated," Hansen said. "I don’t want to describe who they are, nationality. If the man don’t hit them, they say the man don’t love them," Hansen continued.
Other senators distanced themselves from Hansen’s position.
"Let me just say no is no, Sen. Hansen, I believe," said Committee Chairman Kenneth Gittens before the vote.
After the hearing, Sanes said, "It was shocking to hear that, in this day and age."
Sen. Judi Buckley said, “That was unbelievable." Buckley, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, added that she found it sad.
Voting to send the bill on to the Rules and Judiciary Committee were Buckley, Gittens, O’Reilly, Sanes and Sen. Tregenza Roach. Hansen voted against. Sen. Clarence Payne was absent.