PAKISTAN: Gang rapes and videos that circulate

Rape is not merely an offence against the body; it is soul shattering. In a so-called Islamic state like Pakistan, rape is a punishable crime, with a zero conviction rate. The true intentions of the State and its people are exposed in a land where a rape occurs every two hours and a gang rape every eighth hour. The unavailability of justice is why we see victims attempting public self-immolation. No implementation of the law has resulted in rampant rape and further led to an indescribable social chaos, where the new normal is horrific.

In recent years, in gang rapes, the rapists have been filming the act, and have later been threatening the victim with dissemination of the video if he or she dares to report the crime. As there is no specific law to force websites to take down videos, and there is a lack of political will, victims are usually silenced, bowing to the demands of the rapists.

According to the Federal Investigation Agency that handles cyber crime offences, about 12 to 15 cases of private videos of a sexual nature are being uploaded a month by blackmailing gangs and the numbers appear to be increasing.

Such videos can go viral within minutes and get thousands of hits instantly. Gang rape victims, such as the Kasoor gang rape victims, find themselves isolated and hapless; they are treated like outcasts despite being victims of the worst form of abuse. The Kasoor rapes came to light following a land dispute. Though the gang has been actively indulging in blackmailing and extortion from victims and their family.

In jurisdictions with a more humane criminal justice system and sensitive society, the victim is protected. However, naming and shaming is practiced exclusively for the victim by the media in Pakistan; the offenders are the ones that usually get immunity and anonymity. Media ethics for reporting sex crimes is unknown in the nascent electronic media in Pakistan.

Mukhtara Mai became the face of Pakistan when she was gang raped at the orders of a panchayat; sadly her ordeal only began after the gang rape. The apathy of the Judiciary in her case and the poor prosecution, coupled with patriarchal mindset of the society, defeated justice and her perpetrators went scot-free.

Recently BBC News reported the case of a teenage girl from rural Punjab who was subjected to gang rape and then the rapist had posted video of the crime on social media. The video showed her being raped by four men, one by one, while she pleaded for mercy. It spread rapidly through the towns and villages of Punjab. The video was circulated freely while Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) did nothing to take down the video. This is the same PTA that had blocked YouTube in Pakistan for the past two years.

A case was recently reported to Tehrik-e-Niswan, an NGO working for women victims of domestic abuse and rape in Pakistan. A girl has reported being gang raped by three men. The girl is a resident of Mohallah Chananpura, Tehsil Sillanwali, District Sargodha, Punjab. She was tricked by local women named Safia Bibi (who is the wife of Muhammad Aslam) and Bakh Bhari to visit their house for the recitation of Quran. The girl was given a cold drink laced with sedative. She fell unconscious. Three men raped her and filmed the crime. The victim is now being threatened to remain silent or her video will be circulated. The girl reports that the two women are banking on the video by blackmailing the girls of her locality. Many girls fear telling their parents about the incident.

Sadly the incidents of gang rape are skyrocketing in Pakistan. The victims fear for their dignity and family would rather not approach the concerned authorities. Many a times, the police are hand in glove with the perpetrators. And now, amidst a new wave of rape viral videos, it is next to impossible for the victim to complain, let alone seek justice. The victim’s image is so tarnished by the time the rape comes to light that her own loved one often refuse to believe that the victim was innocent.

Rape and sexual violence is a sad reality for women and children in Pakistan. The number of women in Pakistan, who are molested by teachers when young, sexually harassed co-workers at work, and abused by husbands at home, is too large. Thousands of women suffer the same fate each day, yet they dare not speak up, because the society will label them as “loose” or amorous women. A plethora of women centric laws has done little to protect women from sexual abuse because despite the change in law the society has itself not changed. It is time the Pakistani politicians and the society look within and weed out the factions that are abusing our daughters and sisters.