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June 21, 2021

The horrors of harassment

 
June 21, 2021

Imagine a woman who has had to wait nearly five years in order to get some kind of limited justice for facing continuous online harassment from a professor at Karachi University. The woman herself is and was a teacher. The case has been highlighted as a success in that it has brought conviction for the guilty professor, with a charge of eight years in jail, the sentences in various categories of offences to run concurrently. The fact, however, is that given the long delay in the trial process, the culprit has already completed his sentence and will at best serve a few more days in jail. More important than this is the lack of will by the FIA to pursue the matter, the lack of willingness to guide the victim, the lack of sympathy for her plight, and the manner in which she was treated by all those involved in the case.

There are of course, many other cases just like this. In the first place, women fear harassment also because of the way they are likely to be treated in the aftermath of any such report. There is not only a threat to their jobs, but also to their sense of self-respect given the words used to describe them or the manner in which they are accused of having somehow instigated the crime committed against them. This has happened again and again in multiple cases, in multiple manners. Laws such as PECA, which addresses electronic crimes, are then not enough on their own – and in fact one can easily argue that PECA is a bad law overall for various reasons. We also need to train the FIA to behave in a far more sensitive and sympathetic manner to victims who feel helpless, fear stigmatisation by society, and even rejection by their own families.

And it is then not just the laws that need to be altered; far larger measures need to be taken to create understanding and recognition in society that women who complain of rape or harassment deserve help and proper hearings in court, with courts not permitting investigating officers to simply not appear on dates and thereby dragging out the torture for the victim or to use other tactics to prolong the case. This happens far too often in the country and women who face harassment, whether online or in person, will simply not come forward unless a change is made.