LAST year, the horrific gang rape of a woman in front of her children on the Sialkot-Lahore Motorway sparked protests across the country, with people gathering to demand accountability for the survivor and safety for women. This led to two anti-rape ordinances — the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Ordinance 2020 and the Pakistan Penal Code (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 — which expanded the definition of rape, included harsher punishments for perpetrators, and banned the degrading ‘two-finger’ test for victims of rape, which is also a form of assault. Additionally, it called for the establishment of special courts and rape crisis centres. Despite the approval of these ordinances, reported rape cases have risen to 200 in the federal capital, according to a recent report in this paper, with only one additional district and sessions judge authorised to look into such cases. Worryingly, around 80pc of offenders were acquitted due to “faulty investigation, poor prosecution and out-of-court settlements”. While some government ministers were eager to talk about the public hanging of perpetrators, they have not been able to correct the prosecution system for bringing perpetrators to justice.
It is no wonder then that few incidents of rape are officially reported, or pursued legally, as the process can be extremely painful for survivors, who have to relive trauma, and with little hope for justice. Consider the reaction of then Lahore CCPO Umar Sheikh, who engaged in victim-blaming language after the Motorway gang rape incident, and only apologised after considerable public pressure. Such an approach perpetuates the rape culture, which is defined as “stereotyped, false beliefs about rape that justify sexual aggression and trivialise the seriousness of sexual violence”. It is every citizen’s responsibility to challenge and push back against such warped beliefs about the world and society. One instructive example comes from Indonesia where 17-year-old Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam is stirring conversation on the rape culture with her #MakeSchoolASaferPlace campaign, after a teacher made a ‘rape joke’ in the presence of schoolchildren.
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2021