Headline — 08 October 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Touchy rape bill stirs trouble

Controversial Gender Neutral Rape Bill says, “Every person who intentionally penetrates with his penis, the vagina, anus or mouth of another person who is under the age of sixteen years, commits an offence and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life…”

Short sentences for acts of sexual harm against persons, especially minors, and the lack of a sex offenders’ database have been a matter of grave public concern, and so the recent announcement that Cabinet, Government’s chief policy-making arm, has sponsored an amendment to Belize’s Criminal Code to toughen penalties against sex offenders was met with euphoria – that was, until certain factions realized that the bill introduces “gender neutral” language which they contend would bring legitimacy to unnatural sex acts, even while the matter is bound up in a challenge before the Belize Supreme Court.

The proposed amendment, which mentions the anus along with the vagina as a sex organ 20 times on 29 pages, adds a term “parent’s partner,” sparking similar concerns as the redefining of “spouse” in a banking act introduced last year—a change which one religious leader told us was leading down “a dangerous road.”

However, another dimension of the new bill is the way it introduces new tiers of penalties for sexual offenses—rampant in certain religious circles—which could mean that convicted child predators could be locked away for life.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow has denied allegations that the Criminal Code (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill empowers the agenda of UNIBAM – which is awaiting a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of Section 53 of the Laws of Belize, a provision which outlaws unnatural sexual acts, including sodomy and bestiality.

That section says that, “Every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years.”

In May this year, Kareem Hamilton, 26, changed his not guilty plea to guilty, and Justice John “Troadio” Gonzalez sentenced him to 4 years for committing an unnatural crime against a disabled minor, 15 – although the judge noted that Hamilton was not contrite or apologetic about the act.

Last December, the same judge sentenced Lee Henkis, 43, a repeat offender, to eight years behind bars after he was found guilty of an unnatural act. A boy had reported that when he was 9 years old, Henkis lured him with the promise of giving him a cell phone, and had anal sex with him on two separate occasions. Henkis had two prior convictions: one of them being a 7-year sentence for an unnatural act dating back to February 1, 2002.

Barrow said that an earlier version of the Criminal Code Amendment Bill presented to Cabinet included, among the gamut of “sexual offenses,” assaults on persons by touching private parts, including the anus, breasts, buttocks, penis and vagina; but went on to include artificial sexual organs.

“We thought right away, ‘Now hold on! That is going to cause these people to throw a fit, those that are saying that already the Government has some agenda to encourage, as it were, transgender operations and that sort of thing.’ So we took that out,” Barrow told the media.

The Belize Action group led by Pastor Scott Stirm, which is calling for emergency prayer to counter the proposed amendments, notes that, “The Amendment Bill is going to the House Standing Committee this coming Tuesday [October 8] for review and approval; then it’s cleared for 2nd and 3rd readings in the House. We anticipate a high chance that 2nd and 3rd readings will happen at the same time, due to the frenzy to ram this through.”

Stirm notes that whereas PM Barrow has said that there’s no LGBT push behind the Criminal Code amendments, LGBT news agencies are cheering because, they say, the Government of Belize is making preparations for them.

“Recent Government moves indicate they accept the court may rule the gay sex ban is unconstitutional and has to be altered or scrapped. In the latest development, they are amending other areas of the law so male rape would be criminalized properly if the gay part of the penal code is axed,” said Gay Star News, in an article published on Thursday, October 3, 2013.

They also quote UNIBAM spokesperson, Caleb Orozco, as saying that they are delighted and that “…the stars are aligning for us.”

The Supreme Court ruling was expected in July, and the LGBT proponents say experts have indicated to them that it will likely happen before the end of the year.

(Interestingly, a part of the church’s defense against the striking down of Section 53 is that it would strip protection now afforded to males from sexual offenders.)

For his part, Barrow told journalists Friday that the idea behind the change to the Criminal Code is to “increase penalties against predators and against people who commit rape and ensuring that we change the law which, in its current form, seems to contemplate that rape can only be of a female. Of course you can have rape of a male!”

The current laws have various provisions that already capture sexual assault against males, but they don’t call it rape.

Under part II of the Criminal Code, title VII: Criminal Force to the Person, there is a category for assaults, which include rape.

The original section on rape, section 46 of the Laws of Belize, says that, “Every person who commits rape or marital rape shall on conviction on indictment be imprisoned for a term which shall not be less than eight years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.”

Indeed, the current law does not contemplate that a woman can rape a man, as it states: “Rape is the carnal knowledge of a female of any age without her consent.”

Under the existing law, sexual acts against male minors and “unnatural sex acts” –which are only generally prosecuted when they are done against minors or disabled persons – are dealt with under “indecent assault of a sexual nature” clauses.

The proposed rape amendment now captions the replacement provision “aggravated assault”—not rape, and the new proposed text adds some controversial language:

It says under 46(1) that “Every person who penetrates another person’s mouth, anus or vagina with his penis, without that person’s consent or a reasonable belief that the other person consents, commits the offence of rape and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term that is not less than eight years but may extend to imprisonment for life.”

Today’s Criminal Code makes no reference to specific body parts when defining offenses. The new proposal to include words that convey “unnatural sex” acts under the rape umbrella has, therefore, raised the eyebrows of those who disagree with the LGBT challenge, and who contend that the Government, by introducing this new language, is not just compromising a case that is before the courts pending a decision, but also altering Belize’s laws to suit UNIBAM—an allegation which Prime Minister Barrow has denied.

Also of note, though, are changes under the incest provision. Currently, incest can be prosecuted when it is perpetrated, in the case of a female victim, against a “granddaughter, daughter, sister or mother” by a “grandfather, father, brother or son”.

The associated definition of the new amendment extends the category of perpetrators to include “parent’s partner” – defined in the bill to mean “another person with whom a person lives in as a family.”

Our newspaper recalls that the issue of spousal definition—and provisions that appear to recognize same-sex unions—was hotly debated back in 2012, with the introduction of the Domestic Banks and Financial Institutions Act (No. 11 of 2012).

In that law, “spouse” is today defined to mean “an individual person, a wife, husband, or other individual with whom the first-named natural person is engaged in an ongoing conjugal relationship, whether common-law … or not and whether or not the two persons are living together.”

Whereas the churches didn’t support this new definition, it was UNIBAM’s attorney, Lisa Shoman, SC, who is an Opposition Senator, who first raised the issue in Parliament.

Shoman had also told Amandala that indeed, the definition of spouse in the banking legislation was “unusual,” and, in her view, introduces “a much wider” meaning. She said, “It doesn’t limit it to a man or woman,” adding that the definition of spouse in the new bill is “gender neutral.”

Indeed, the religious community dubs the latest criminal code amendments as the “Gender Neutral Rape Bill.”

In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Barrow said: “Government will, therefore, fully respect the right of the churches to propagate their understanding of the morality, or immorality, of homosexuality. But what Government cannot do is to shirk its duty to ensure that all citizens, without exception, enjoy the full protection of the law.”

Barrow said that the Belize Constitution that affirms the supremacy of the Creator also affirms fundamental rights and the dignity of the individual human being.

“That same Constitution further declares that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to non-discrimination; to freedom from interference with their privacy…” Barrow added.

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