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Tuesday December 06, 2022

Prosecuting rape

September 28, 2022

According to an estimate, every day in Pakistan, a dozen women and more or less the same number of children become victims of sexual abuse.

These are the incidents that are reported but it is possible that the number is more than that because many people remain silent despite being victims of this heinous crime due to social problems. Then there is the fact that women who are victims of rape are often blamed in our society and this victim blaming in our society also forces the victim to stay silent.

Women and children are victims of sexual abuse not only in villages and rural areas; stories of sexual abuse and rape are heard from time to time in big corporate offices and private and public universities as well. Recently, there was a heartbreaking incident in the Sanghar area of Sindh, where a girl who belonged to the family of flood victims was sexually assaulted on the pretext of giving her ration. Her picture and video telling the story of what happened to her went viral without hiding her face.

Earlier, the whole country almost went through the trauma of an incident like the Motorway Rape case, in which a woman who had stopped on the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway after running out of petrol was gang-raped by two men. Her children were also present at that time. The one thing common in both these incidents is that the criminals involved in both incidents were arrested by the police, but more than that there is another important thing in both incidents which is common in almost all rape cases: in both the cases, the pictures of the accused in both the cases went viral before the trial in court. In fact, in every case of sexual assault/rape in Pakistan, as soon as the accused are arrested, their photos are made viral, which proves the beginning of injustice from the plaintiff's case.

The accused involved in other serious crimes like this are arrested and presented to the media, their handcuffed pictures going viral. While this gets the police officers a lot of praise, it weakens the victim's case. Because when the identification parade starts in the court and the plaintiff or the victim is asked to identify the accused, the lawyers of the accused use the mistake made by the police as their weapon.

What is the use of such an identity parade when the pictures of the accused have already gone viral; this definitely weakens the case of the victim/ complainant and ends up benefiting the accused. Are the police officers of Pakistan not aware of this? If they are, then why is this seen in every case of sexual abuse? The conviction rate in rape cases in Pakistan is less than two per cent, compared to an estimated 32 per cent in neighbouring India. while in Bangladesh, the conviction rate in rape cases is only three per cent.

In a country like Pakistan, the lack of female medico-legal officers in hospitals is also a major reason for the reduction in the conviction rate in rape cases, while the lack of special women's cells in police stations is also one of the main reasons for this problem. There is a culture of men asking unnecessary questions from the victimized party, which discourages female victims who then shy away from going to the police station and filing an FIR despite being victimized.

But even if a special cell for women is established at police stations and the number of women medico-legal officers in the hospitals are increased, it may still not be possible to increase the conviction rate in rape cases. Because the real problem is the negligence of the police as well as the lack of interest of public prosecutors of which the accused take full advantage and go free.

In rape cases, the identity of the accused should be kept secret and should not be brought to the media after the arrest so that the accused does not get the benefit of the doubt during the identification parade. Also: public prosecutors should be given special stipend or incentive in rape cases, so that those accused of rape and sexual assault can be brought to justice and this two per cent conviction rate is increased to a level where we can feel proud of our law-enforcement agencies and prosecution as judges can’t do anything when prosecution is hell-bent in destroying the victim’s case.

The writer tweets @ZameerAMalik

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