By Ayesha Sadaf Khan
August 18, 2013
All of us sat before our computers and our TV screens in the past year to see the different cases (the high-profile Stuebenville, Ohio rape trial, the India gang rape case in December) that had grabbed headlines all over the world. This brought back into action public discussion about rape and the corresponding legal protection for its victims.
Recently, in what was perhaps a very positive move against sexual violence, the British police arrested a man due to his online threats against a feminist campaigner, Caroline Criado Perez, after she succeeded in her campaign to get Jane Austen’s picture on a UK bank note. His threats made to Perez via Twitter went as:
“This Perez one just needs a good smashing up the **** and she’ll be fine”
“Everyone jump on the rape train > @CCriadoPerez is conductor”
Labour MP Stella Creasy was also attacked when she came up to Perez’s defence with twitter troll threatening her.
“@stellacreasy I will rape you tomorrow at 9pm….shall we meet near your house…”
Perez and Creasy decided to continue being vocal against these threats of violence as they could materialise. This speaking out sparked an online movement, #shoutingback, with over 30,000 people signing a petition for Twitter to introduce a ‘report’ button against future threats of sexual violence. The violator was arrested on July 28, 2013 and Twitter announced that they were introducing a ‘Report Abuse’ button within tweets in the UK after pressure from the public to take action.
Contrast this to how we treated Mukhtaran Mai, Dr Shazia and countless other women who spoke out against the horrific crimes that were committed against them. Many believed that Mai’s global campaign created negative energy not understanding that international attention would only have pressurised our government to take action with national conversation often insinuating that she was ruining Pakistan’s image around the world.
And the hate did not just end there.
In what was perhaps a jarring example of how unfair rape victims have it in our country, the Lahore High Court cited ‘insufficient evidence’ in its decision to acquit five out of six of the men who had been arrested earlier. Mai appealed their decision, only to have the Supreme Court again acquit the accused in 2011. Failing domestically she tried to speak out on an international platform and was then again criticised for creating negative propaganda. President Pervez Musharraf, even admitted on his personal blog that fearing Pakistan’s negative image, he restricted Mai’s movements in 2005 by placing her on the Exit Control List which prevented her from attending conferences abroad.
Perhaps, we can learn a little bit from our neighbour India. The Delhi rape trial that horrified the world and sparked a national movement is currently making legal progress. India has also faced great international and domestic backlash for the Delhi gang rape case but the Indian populous and government did not shirk the issue by instead turning its attention to the negative press it got internationally. While many from its society made the same gross insinuations saying that ‘she brought it upon herself’ and ‘this is why women should stay inside their houses’, reflecting the backward thinking that exists everywhere, the case was still catapulted into the legal limelight as people took to the streets to pressurise the government to take necessary action. Despite previous rape trials taking years to absolve, a verdict is expected soon.
Did they say that this was an agenda of the imperialist press to defame them? Did they say that this was just one over-hyped, over-exaggerated report?
They had more to lose regarding national reputation considering that India is such an ever-present force in the global financial market. In fact, the Delhi courts invited the foreign press to scrutinise its legal proceedings and used its newly established ‘fast-track’ courts to try the defendants and reach an appropriate verdict to punish the perpetrators as soon as possible.
What did this tell their countrymen?
It sent out a strong, clear message not just to India but to the world that rape was a crime that no assembly, no parliament, no court, no legislation and no woman in India would tolerate.
What did Mai’s case tell our countrymen?
That no powerful legislation is present to protect rape victims without four witnesses or prosecute rapists from influential families.
So what can Pakistan take from all this?
Our Council of Islamic Ideology recently declared DNA tests as inadmissible as the main form of evidence in rape trials, only to be used at best as supplementary evidence (considered weaker circumstantial evidence). This is a considerable step back for our legislation regarding our country’s rape victims who are already suffering from intense social stigma that prevents them from reporting rape. In a big leap forward, MPA Sharmila Farooqi pushed the Sindh Assembly to adopt a resolution making the usage of DNA Tests mandatory in rape cases. One can only hope that the rest of our provincial governments will follow suit.
Mai, unfortunately was one of the many, many Pakistani women who are not given enough legal and social protection to seek justice for their unimaginable sufferings. While rape is a very international problem, nations around the world are doing much more to protect and provide justice for their women. Our legal systems’ lack of support for rape victims along with the high levels of social stigma and the widespread ignorant belief that women generally bring rape upon themselves due to their tempting behaviour are representative of a status quo that must change.
Perhaps, we can learn a thing or two from our rivals and other strong movements around the world to reduce the high incidence of rape and other forms of sexual violence in our country. Pakistan needs a strong dose of #shoutingback to better protect its women.