When Will the Numbers Go Down?

I do not intend to use fancy language or interpret a problematic provision of law or mention statistics to support my assertions. Today, I write as a woman who has questions for the state, the very state which pledged to protect my autonomy and dignity through its Constitution. This article aims to suggest solution-based approaches to curb the number of rape cases.

For as long as people have been narrating history, they have been recording sexual violence and assaults as well. From the writings of ancient Greece scholars and the Holy Scriptures to the letters of the earliest explorers, this brutal offence has always been part of human evolution. Needless to say, it has been condemned and penalized in every modern civilization, yet we continue to see a huge number of victims and mind-boggling circumstances which are not only uncomfortable but also make no sense to a reasonable mind. We keep hearing and saying that a human cannot be capable of committing such barbaric acts but they are happening every day in our society.

In the domestic sphere, women are required to place themselves under the protection of their fathers, brothers and husbands who have legally and traditionally been entitled to impose their patriarchal authority by actual or threatened violence. In the legal sphere, police and law enforcement officers reflect a prevailing culture of toxic masculinity and assert their own definitions of norms while the courts have effectively been treating women as blameworthy for the mere fact of bringing forward a rape case. In Pakistan, women continue to receive radical backlash for simply marching for the enforcement of their guaranteed rights. If national television broadcasts the helpless cry of religious clerics praying for the lost dignity of women, as an observer you see a flood of hashtags and arguments on social media and news channels, but if the activists and advocates try to counter it, the media picks up on the pulse of another headline as soon there is a new one. This vicious cycle repeats again and again. As a result, we lose justice somewhere in the fake and faulty investigations, unnecessary delays and administrative politics.

In our country, in fact in any country across the world, it can be confidently stated that any female belonging to any age-group has experienced some form of sexual harassment or violence in her life. Infants, minors, married women, mothers, grandmothers and even dead bodies of women have been subjected to rape. The question that arises is, how many cases and incidents do we really need to see before there is an actual decrease in the number of rape cases in Pakistan? And these are just the ones that surface if they get reported. Millions more get buried and erased.

It is high time that we as a nation pay attention to the root-causes of rape-culture and change our approach in addressing them in order to prevent sexual violence against women. Practical modifications are required at the individual, administrative, legal and societal level, some of which are discussed below.

Primary/Individual Level

  • Psychological Support: We must understand that short-term care and impermanent support after an incident of sexual violence are not sufficient for recovery. There is evidence that administrating a cognitive-behavioral program right after an assault may increase the rate of damage from psychological trauma.[1] Any victim of sexual violence around us should be encouraged to opt for therapy or support groups to deal with various factors related to the process of recovery.
  • Perpetrators: It is a common response of the perpetrators who commit sexual violence to completely deny that they responsible. We should establish educational and rehabilitation programs where the perpetrators collaborate to support services for victims, get counselled enough to admit responsibility and be publicly seen as responsible for their actions.

Healthcare

  • Medico-Legal Procedures: When sexual violence is reported in Pakistan, the health sector is responsible to collect medical and legal evidence to corroborate the accounts of victims and identify the perpetrators. Despite having standard protocols and guidelines in place, which specifically direct to create a suitable environment to maintain the dignity of survivors of violence, enforcement agencies adopt a hostile attitude towards female victims, which not only taints the investigation from the outset but also adds to the trauma of the survivors.
  • Training: It is absolutely essential for healthcare professionals to be trained to understand the cultural and social context of the violence committed against victims, identify the situation within families at high risk of violence and implement primary and secondary interventions necessary to reintegrate the victim into the society.

Legal Front

  • Enforcement: Much has been said about legal reforms and while there are laws in place, we always fail at their enforcement. We need our system to encourage people to report incidents of sexual violence, ensure a safe environment for all and require police to improve speed and sensitivity in processing the cases. Other mechanisms include the establishment of a sex crimes unit and domestic violence units, gender sensitization training for the police and women-only or women-led police stations and courts for rape-related offences.

Societal Level

  • Sex-Education: It is necessary that we mandate sex-education for every institute (federal/provincial and private). It should be made part of the general curriculum for children and should be mandatory, all-inclusive, medically correct and taught throughout the student’s school years, just like any other subject. It is our fundamental duty as a society to educate future generations.
  • Developmental Approach: Schwartz[2] has developed a prevention model that adopts a developmental approach, with interventions before birth, during childhood and during young adulthood. The said model aims to introduce sexual abuse and exposure to violence to young adults by avoiding stereotyping and making children understand the difference between good and bad touch. It is submitted that for a better implementation of the said model, we need complete and vigilant participation from parents and teachers who will not only be willing to educate their children but also themselves.

We have to intervene and implement better social norms to protect our women against violence. We have to mobilize men as allies. We have to teach skills to promote social and emotional learning. We have to promote opportunities that empower women and create enabling environments. We have to support victims of sexual violence and we have to start now!


References

[1] Foa EB, Hearst-Ikeda D, Perry KJ. Evaluation of a brief cognitive-behavioural program for the prevention of chronic PTSD in recent assault victims. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1995, 63:948–955.
[2] Schwartz, Ivy L. (November–December 1991). “Sexual violence against women: prevalence, consequences, societal factors and prevention”. American Journal of Preventive Medicine7 (6): 363–373. doi:10.1016/S0749-3797(18)30873-0PMID 1790044.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which she might be associated.

Ramsha Shahid

Author: Ramsha Shahid

The writer is a practising Advocate of the High Court and faculty member at TMUC, Lahore. She can be reached at [email protected]