Heather Little-White, PhD,
A 23-year-old woman sitting in a group of her peers discussing the issue of buggery and whether the law making it a criminal act should be repealed seemed a little uncomfortable and could not help asking, “What is buggery?”
Her question was very instructive as it is often assumed that persons know what these sexual acts entail and may unknowingly engage in them in consensual or coerced situations.
Buggery is historically referred to as a ‘crime against nature’. Buggery, also known as sodomy, is defined as anal intercourse between a man and another man, a woman, or an animal (Collins English Dictionary). As a British English term, buggery is close in meaning to the term sodomy and is often commonly used today. The word bugger is still commonly used in modern English as a mild exclamation for disgusting acts.
Buggery is a detestable crime, contrary to the order of nature as a sex act by mankind with mankind or with brute beasts, or by womankind with brute beasts. Buggery is a specific common-law offence, encompassing both sodomy and bestiality.
Originating in English law, buggery was first used in the Buggery Act 1533, while Section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, titled ‘Sodomy and Bestiality’, defined punishments for “the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal”. The definition of buggery was not specified in these or any statute, but rather established by judicial precedent. (Halsbury’s Laws of England.)
Over the years, the courts have defined buggery to include either anal intercourse by a man with a man or woman, or vaginal intercourse by either a man or a woman with an animal. But it does not include any other form of “unnatural intercourse”. Under the law, if one is charged with buggery, neither consent nor the act of marriage can serve as a defence.
In the United Kingdom, the punishment for buggery was reduced from hanging to life imprisonment by the Offences against the Person Act 1861. As with the crime of rape, buggery required that penetration must have occurred, but ejaculation is not necessary. To be charged for buggery, it must be proven that penetration took place, or by having successful tests on blood or semen to show that there was actual intercourse. If this is not successful, there may be a lesser charge of gross indecency.
Over time, laws have changed in keeping with contemporary approaches to sexual intimacy. Anal sex between consenting adults is no longer a crime. In most jurisdictions in England and Wales, homosexual buggery was decriminalised in 1967 and the age of consent was raised. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 fully removed buggery as a concept in British law, introducing an equal age of consent and not differentiating between vaginal and anal sex.
Abolition of the offence of non-consensual buggery between persons was abolished in 1993 in the Republic of Ireland as criminal prosecutions for buggery [anal sex] had not taken place for years. However, the 1993 act created an offence of “buggery with a person under the age of 17 years” to give protection to children, viewing the act as “defilement of a child”, encompassing both “sexual intercourse” and “buggery”. However, the act of buggery by way of bestiality is still unlawful under Section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act of 1861. Earlier this year, a man was prosecuted under this Section after a woman died as a result of an allergic reaction after he had intercourse with his dog. (Reilly and Gavan, 2011)
Buggery of an animal
This offence is not too common today and, when discovered, raises public disgust to the point of violent attacks on the perpetrator. Encouraging tolerance towards bestiality, the public should weigh the act against the following parameters:
Was the act committed in private?
Is it likely to be repeated?
Was injury done to the animal?
Was the animal commercially exploited?
Were children involved in the offence?
Violence against women
Buggery is also considered gross indecency in the act of anal, sexual intercourse without consent, traumatising victims and leaving them in pain. Where anal intercourse takes place without consent, there should be a charge for rape as proposed by women’s organisations. The 1999 UN General Assembly’s designation of November 25 as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women serves to highlight the fact that acts like sodomy are violent acts against women.
Violence against women and girls is pandemic with at least one out of every three women around the world beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. The abuser is usually someone she knows.
Buggery and HIV
In his article on ‘Buggery & Health’ in The Sunday Gleaner (November 13, 2011), Byron Buckley wrote extensively on buggery as a public-health issue in the context of “a consistent increase in HIV incidence among homosexual men since the late 1990s”. This increase among homosexual men is attributed to unprotected anal intercourse compromising the advances in the prevention and treatment for HIV/AIDS. Buckley further added that compared with other sexually active adults, men who have sex with men are more likely to be infected with several other sexually transmitted diseases.
At a recent meeting of the UNAIDS Caribbean regional support team, it was announced that HIV prevalence rates were significantly higher among men who engaged in sex with men in countries where buggery laws were not repealed.
Anal sex is risky as the cell walls of the rectum are very thin and are easily torn on penetration. Before inserting foreign objects, they should be checked to see if they are free from sharp and rough edges. It is recommended that lubricated condoms and latex gloves be used for anal sex. Symptoms of injury in anal sex include abdominal pain, sudden change in the number of times for defecation and black and bloody stools.
Abolish buggery laws
There have been calls from several sectors, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee, for Jamaica to abolish its buggery laws. Some persons believe that legitimising homosexuality will reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS. However, there is no guarantee that this will happen unless safe sex is practised all the time during anal penetration.
It is interesting to note that Britain scrapped the homosexuality laws in its five Caribbean territories after legislatures refused to do so. The British Privy Council, which acts as the highest court for the territories, decriminalised homosexual activities between adults in private. The order, which is already in effect, applies to Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos. The British government had for years experienced great difficulty in persuading local politicians to repeal the laws in island legislatures. Anti-gay laws in the islands violate human rights agreements signed by Britain.
Buggery morphed into anal sex today is practised among two consenting adults, so if the act is repealed, then the word ‘buggery’ would no longer be used in everyday language.