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June 22, 2021

Realities of rape

 
June 22, 2021

We live in a country where, each day, at least 11 women are raped somewhere across the territory that makes up Pakistan. There are likely to be other cases that do not reach the press. On Sunday, at least four cases of rape were reported in the English language press. Perhaps others occurred that we didn't hear about or which did not make the pages of newspapers or the screens of TV channels. The women who suffered the violent assault that will traumatise them for life, were not immodestly dressed, and quite certainly wore a sufficient amount of clothes. It would be an understatement to say that for all rape survivors and victims, all the little girls, and all the little boys – every single one of them – the comments by the holder of the highest office in the land that it is 'common sense' that men would be 'tempted' by women in 'very few clothes' would be heartbreakingly triggering and offensive. We have in this space previously reiterated as well that rape is a crime of power and not lust, which is why what we really need is a justice system that upholds justice in rape cases and a society that doesn't view women merely as objects to be abused at will. Here are some facts: women are not raped because they are wearing 'very few clothes'; it is not 'common sense' for men to be tempted by scantily-clad women; men that don't attack women on the basis of what they're wearing are not 'robots' – and it is not cultural imperialism to demand that a woman's clothes not determine whether she be raped or not.

We need to rethink the culture of rape in our country and to put it in its proper context. When people in positions of responsibility make such remarks, it only ends up validating apologists of such regressive and violent mindsets that see women and girls – and boys – as easy prey for sexual crime. From the police to the family to the rest of society, literally everyone shames a woman who has survived rape and then has taken up the unnerving and terrifying process of reporting it and asking for justice. In all this, shame is the biggest weapon used to silence women. Women must be protected against rape and other kinds of sexual violence by ensuring consistent punishment for those guilty of rape; and it is not severity but consistency of punishment that needs to be the goal. Women do not need protection that insists they cover themselves up even more for fear of being attacked. It is the implementation of laws that will give them the right to safety, no matter where they choose to go, or how they choose to dress.

Perhaps gender sensitization needs to begin right at the very top in our country, emphasizing that rape or any other kind of sexual abuse is always a crime. It is the perpetrators of these crimes who need to be punished and not the victims. In a country where even protesting violence against women is policed and seen as going 'too far', this is an uphill task – and one that involves not just the very brave women who protest at the risk of their lives and their reputations but also the men of the country and the state itself. It should not take extraordinary efforts on the part of women just to see rapists and violent and abusive men behind bars. Since the overwhelming number of sexual assault cases are perpetrated by a family member or spouse, women are often coerced into ‘forgiving’ the perpetrator, made to feel like it is their fault or otherwise forced into silence. Many legal reforms are needed, starting with making DNA testing routine to hiring enough women officers and ensuring gender sensitivity training is routine for police. But even this will not solve the problem in itself until we, as a society, acknowledge the root cause behind rape and sexual assault, and stop adding to the suffering by shaming survivors and victims.