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Marshall Islands Journal

January 18, 2002

Three all-male juries have returned "not guilty" verdicts in rape trials at Majuro and Ebeye in the past year. The continuing willingness of Marshall Islands men on juries to ignore sexual assaults by other men is, in effect, declaring open season on women.

While in the first case on Ebeye there was some ambiguity in the evidence, the last two uses -- one each in Majuro and Ebeye -- had very strong evidence of sexual assault.

These jury verdicts are going to have a chilling effect on women’s willingness to report sexual assaults -- acknowledged by various government agencies as being a serious problem in the RMI.

Moreover, RMI prosecutors have indicated following last week’s trial on Ebeye, that they may have second thoughts about bringing sexual assault cases because they don’t want to put the victims through the trauma of a trial that ends up, in effect, saying that the female victims are liars.

The mindset in the Marshall Islands, as expressed by these jury decisions, is that if a woman ends up alone with a man -- no matter what the circumstances are -- such as a physical assault -- then she has agreed to whatever happens next. The question to the woman (or, in last week’s Ebeye case, a 15-year-old girl) isn’t what happened? It’s why were you there? Or more bluntly, you deserved what you got for being alone with a man in that situation.

If the Marshall Islands wants to move out of the 19th century, which means providing adequate protection for women as well as men, the Nitijela and the Cabinet are going to need to look at how all-male jury trials are effectively giving license to rape in the Marshall Islands. A key problem that needs to be addressed legislatively is the lack of an "age of consent" for sex by young women.

This and other sexual assault problems are included in bills now pending with the Nitijela. They need urgent attention of our national legislators.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail:  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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