Rape is a heinous act that can psychologically scar a woman for life. Open your newspaper – any day of the week – and you will definitely find a report of a woman being raped! Unfortunately, this crime continues to take place all over the world. It is estimated that globally one in every five women will be victimised by rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.
Instances of rape have even scarred our history as numerous women were raped during the time of partition. The next major episode of mass rapes occurred in 1971 after the fall of Dhaka. However, after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the subsequent deterioration of law and order resulted in the increase of every form of crime including rape.
It is still considered a taboo subject in Pakistan and rape statistics are downright depressing. Rape is grossly under-reported in Pakistan. And there are structural flaws to explain the dismal state of affairs we are in. Lodging a First Information Report (FIR) is the first official hurdle. If the SHO is not present in the office, FIR can’t be registered. People have to wait for the whole day and at times they return back home empty-handed. However, the shining light at the end of this dark tunnel became visible when a group of individuals, mainly from Women Action Forum, got together and established ‘War against Rape’ (WAR) in Karachi in 1989.
The organisation’s primary aim is to help victims of rape and provides free legal services, psychotherapeutic counselling, medical assistance and crisis intervention. The organisation helps rape victims in getting their cases registered. Besides this, the attitudes of the male personnel are disgusting towards the victim. From leering, laughing and even accusing them of lying, the personnel can go as far as assaulting the victims themselves. With the increase in number of cases reported, it could be said that either the incidents are increasing at an alarming rate or awareness has increased. In the past few years, WAR has also initiated advocacy campaigns to prevent sexual violence.
“We approach the victim via various channels like police stations, courts, newspapers, three functioning government hospitals and other NGOs such as HRCP and Aurat Foundation,” explains Rukhsana Siddique, survivor support officer at the organisation.
The Women Protection Act 2006 has also eased the registering of cases with the police. The bill is an amendment to the existing Hudood Ordinance, where a woman had to produce four witnesses, who had to testify that she had been raped. “The police was very unhappy with the amendment and claimed that now women would just accuse any man of rape and there will be no stopping them,” says Rukhsana. Recently women police stations in Karachi have started registering rape case. In the past they were not even authorized to do so.
Ideally, the victim should be taken to Medico-legal officer (MLO) for evidence collecting. The dilemma here is that there are only six female MLOs in Karachi. Even though, the medical evidence is secondary, it is still very important. Most rapists get acquitted due to the absence of concrete medico-legal and forensic evidence. The delay in going to MLO results in the loss of evidence.
Following in the footsteps of the decrepit police and health departments, is the judiciary. The conviction of a rapist greatly depends upon the judge. “The judicial process is extremely slow, the cases linger on for so long that the plaintiff gets tired of commuting, cutting work hours etc.,” laments Rukhsana. However, what needs to be changed is the slow pace of our legal/judicial system. The organisation has proposed that a time-frame be set for deciding on rape cases similar to the Khula cases. In Khula cases, six months is the maximum time. For rape it shouldn’t be more than one year.
Even when the culprit is caught and on trial, lack of witnesses exacerbate the situation. The organisation members claim that the notorious white-corolla case faced a similar situation. The culprit, a serial rapist was set free because no woman came to testify against him.
Families seeking justice are often kicked out of their neighbourhoods by the residents. Or sometimes the shame or the fear factor comes into play. *Sima was raped by her neighbour in Korangi. With the NGO’s effort, the rapist was arrested but subsequently received bail after appealing to the high court. Sima became so frightened when she saw her monster standing right in front of her as a free man. The family moved away.
While the organisation’s bulk of victims are women, there are many cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) and sodomy that have surfaced to their notice.
According to Rukhsana Siddique, “Child rape for both genders is very common and because usually the rapist is an acquaintance of the child, the victim is murdered due to fear of being recognised.” Regardless of class CSA is prevalent. It is usually the servants, family members or neighbours. But families from lower-income backgrounds are more eager to work with the organisation rather than families of upper classes. Often the upper-class families deal with the cases on their own resources.
Marital rape is considered husband’s right. Even the wives themselves don’t think of it as a wrongdoing. “Some two years back, I was visiting the police station and there a woman was arguing with the police to lodge a complaint against her husband for rape, the police just laughed the matter off. After a week when I went to police station again, I was informed that the husband and wife had come to a compromise,” says Rukhsana.
Hermaphrodites are also raped but the NGO has never come into contact with them. Even boys of 22 years have been raped. Unlike girls, nobody takes it seriously. *Ahad, a 22-year-old boy belongs to a middle-class family and was routinely raped by his male boss. Someone brought him to the NGO’s office where he was provided with medical treatment. “I don’t want to pursue any legal action,” says Ahad vehemently. The organisation comes across other similar cases where guys are raped and abused but the boys are extremely reluctant to take up any action against it.
Another girl, who is being assisted by the NGO’s survivor support programme, is reluctant to pursue a legal case because she apprehends her parents’ reaction. So far her parents are unaware of her plight. Besides these activities, the organisation also supports survivors financially.
Rape is a crime, never mind the gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, character or clothing of the individual. Efforts are needed to change the mindsets. While WAR focuses on corrective reactionary techniques, it doesn’t neglect the preventive measures. The biggest prevention of rape is to raise gentlemen who would abhor the idea of forcing themselves on someone.
*Names have been changed to retain privacy
By: Anadil Iftekhar