Providing survivor-centric support

February 18, 2024

First Anti-Rape Crisis Centre established at PIMS, more to follow

Providing survivor-centric support


s you step into the bustling emergency unit of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Islamabad, the clamour of patients seeking urgent medical attention fills the air. Amidst the mayhem is a secluded sanctuary, specially designed for survivors of sexual assault.

Inaugurated by Ayesha Raza Farooq, chairperson for the Special Committee on Anti-Rape Law and National Commission on Rights of Child on January 15, the Anti-Rape Crisis Centre was established by the Ministry of Law and Justice and Ministry of Health with support from the UK Government, UN Population Fund and Legal Aid Society.

The Anti-Rape Crisis Centre is part of the implementation of the Anti-Rape (Trial and Investigation) Act, 2021, which ensures justice for survivors of sexual offences and the provision of services and support they may need before, during and after a trial.

The law provides for the establishment of Anti-Rape Crisis Centres at the district level in DHQ Hospitals to provide survivors with access to essential services including FIR registration, collection of evidence and a medical examination.

Survivors of sexual violence, including rape, suffer tremendously from physical impact, emotional trauma and social stigmatisation. Confidential, comprehensive and timely medico-legal services and psychosocial support are needed to help them.

Besides creating the space in the PIMS emergency unit, the room for police personnel deputed at the emergency unit to register such complaints has been upgraded in line with the sensitivity of such cases. The aim is to ensure an expeditious and effective redress mechanism for rape survivors.

In 2021, 5,200 rapes were reported in the country, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. In the Punjab alone, 1,111 cases were reported between January 1 and April 30, 2023, says the annual report on violence against women produced by the Sustainable Social Development Organisation. According to War Against Rape, the conviction rate in rape cases is less than 3 percent.

Many survivors and their families are reluctant to report the crime due to the stigma and fear involved in going to police stations. “I have witnessed acquittal in many cases in which survivors and their families had no knowledge of whom and where to approach in such a situation,” Khadija Ali, an advocate of High Court, tells The News on Sunday.

Khadija Ali welcomes the fact that a centre providing the necessary services at one place has been established. “The police will be notified if a rape survivor is brought to the hospital. The survivor or her family won’t have to run from pillar to post. Such survivor-centric support systems and structures are very important if we want to see an improvement in conviction rate of sexual violence offences,” she says.

“Such survivor-centric support systems or structures are very important if we want to see an increase in conviction rate of sexual offences.

Justice Raja Naeem Akbar, the Law Division secretary, says the next step is the establishment of Anti-Rape Crisis Centres at the provincial level. He emphasises the importance of the availability of functional ARCC throughout Pakistan to ensure timely and effective assistance to survivors of rape.

He says that rape was first defined as an offence in 1860. With the passage of time, it was felt that the law was not sufficient to deliver justice to rape survivors. “So, during the last government, an ordinance was passed which was later approved by the parliament and became law. Following that, special judges were designated, trainings were conducted for prosecutors on issues related to rape and gender-based violence and rules and regulations were made for medical examination of survivors,” he says.

Describing the process involved at the ARCC, he says that if a rape survivor arrives at the centre, she is dealt according to the standard operating procedures developed with assistance form civil society. Staff will be available for medical, psychological and legal help, if required. He says that the staff is trained in collecting evidence. “DNA sample are collected when required. Police will also be deputed to manage the procedural issues.”

“When survivors approach a police station with a complaint, they are asked to go to the hospital with an application. It is usually a challenge for them to reach the hospital in that condition. This leads to a difficult task of searching the right place and right person for the medical examination. Once the examination is done, they are sent back to the police station. The ARCC will provide these services in one place. The centres have spare clothes available for the survivors, in case they have some evidence on their clothes that needs to be preserved,” he says.

Dr Luay Shabaneh, the UNFPA representative, says that the UNFPA has been a key partner of the Ministry of Law and Justice in establishing a Federal Sexual Violence Response Framework, a one-of-a-kind compendium of actions for primary, secondary and tertiary responses to incidents of sexual violence.

He says that rape is an ugly crime and a severe violation of human rights that causes lifelong pain and psychological trauma to those who face it. “Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma and shame associated with sexual violence. Therefore, survivors hesitate to seek medical and legal help. The Anti-Rape Crisis Centre serves as a one-stop shop that offers collective, coordinated and timely response services to survivors within the premises of a hospital.”

He says that the UNFPA will continue to support the government in establishing ARCCs, under the framework, across Pakistan so that survivors can receive the services and meaningful help that they deserve. “The UNFPA will also continue its support to the federal and provincial governments in strengthening their mechanism to prevent and respond to rape as an ugly crime in a way that should shame perpetrators, not the victims.”

The writer is a reporter for The News International

Providing survivor-centric support