WHEN sexual violence is perceived to be almost the norm, the world becomes a dangerous place to be female.

This observation rings true for Pakistan too. Although the average of 3,000 rape cases reported annually, and a low conviction rate, may appear to diminish the extent of the problem, it must be remembered that crimes of a sexual nature are massively underreported in this country because of the strong social stigma attached to them.

Observing that perpetrators will be punished if there is incriminatory evidence, the Peshawar High Court noted this week that it is mandatory for investigating authorities to conduct DNA tests in rape cases.

The court, which was ruling on a petition filed by a man accused of sexually assaulting a woman, highlighted the value of medical forensic examinations, including methods used for evidence collection and preservation.

Also read: It's time Pakistan banned the two-finger test for decoding consent in rape trials

Pakistan’s anti-rape law makes DNA evidence admissible in court and calls for in-camera trials so victims are protected in court from humiliating questioning. It stipulates DNA samples be taken from suspects and perpetrators for DNA profiling to prevent future attacks.

Ideally, such DNA samples should be maintained in a national database in case of repeated violations by offenders. Investigators should ensure DNA samples are collected within 72 hours from the time of the incident.

The realisation that DNA verification can make or break case outcomes is enough of a reason for them and for prosecutors to collect this medico-legal form of evidence.

Also, notorious for furnishing fudged medical reports, medical officers found colluding with the accused or deciding that a claim of rape is not reliable on a moral whim must be penalised.

At the heart of failed rape prosecutions lie the inadequacies of investigators and prosecutors who have been unable to provide the evidence required for a fair trial. If the government is committed to pushing back against this culture of hiding violent sexual crimes, then it must institute stringent policies for prevention, legal response and support with immediate effect.

Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2017

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