In The Middle Of Rape, Abuse And Failed Deterrence
Tales of heroism and savagery often intertwine into an intricate relationship. What was once considered brave and heroic is now unacceptable to all members of the civilized world. Wars have been outlawed, violence is abhorred, and any act that infringes the dignity of human life is now considered unethical and illegal ab initio.
In the recent past, there has been a rise in the reporting of crimes of sexual nature i.e. rapes, harassment, and child molestation etc. The said rise has forced us all to introspect, and find out as to what actually is the cause of this tattered social fabric – young children, women of all age, and even teenage boys are often reported to have been raped and molested here and there! From north to the southern border, this seems to be the constant that, despite sending tremors down our spines, does not bring forth any change whatsoever in the general scheme of things.
It wasn’t so long ago that innocent Zainab’s life was brought to an end by an unfortunate and heart-breaking incident that happened in Kasur. There was outrage all around, #HangTheRapist was trending on social media for days, and even a Legislative Act was passed by the Republic’s parliament. The perpetrator was quickly caught, hastily tried, sentenced to death, and hanged, yet nothing really changed! It wasn’t too long before another incident of the same kind happened, another innocent soul tortured, her soul violated. What went on Motorway quite recently hasn’t been forgotten, shrill cries of “Hang the Rapist” are still in the air, but despite all, #KashmoreIncident happened.
What does all of this entail? Does it mean that criminals are more resilient than the decent common folk existing around, or does it indicate that our approach towards ending, or at least reducing this menace, is superficial and hence useless!
On the question as to whether strict punishments in shape of public hangings of criminals reduces crime rate there exists plethora of data, and a consensus among experts in the field, that severity of punishment does nothing in decreasing crime rate. Most prominently, Dr Maurice Bun, a professor at the University of Amsterdam, in his paper “Crime, Deterrence and Punishment Revisited” has concluded that “criminal activity is highly responsive to the prospect of arrest and conviction, but much less responsive to the prospect or severity of imprisonment, if at all”. Another important research paper in this regard is “On Punishment Severity and Crime Rates” co-authored by Professor Dr. Tim Friehe of University of Marburg, and Professor Dr. Thomas J. Miceli from University of Connecticut. The conclusion of both these learned gentlemen is also in support of the aforementioned inference drawn by Dr. Bun. Keeping these in mind, and tons of other data & research in support of this idea, the whole argument in support of #HangTheRapist goes down the drain.
Another historic practice found commonly in these matters is Summary Justice. News of people accused of sexual violence and rape dying under ‘mysterious’ circumstances at the hands of state, even prior to a trial, frequently makes it to our news screens. In 2019, when Dr Priyanka Reddy was raped, all four accused of having gang-raped here were murder extrajudicially – despite there being strong evidence on record in support of prosection’s case. Similar incidents happen all around the world, and there’s news circulating that the ‘mysterious’ death of accused at the hands of co-accused is also a continuation of the same trend of police assuming the charge of judge, jury and executioner! If that’s the case, then there’s little justice that words can do to help us condemn this act of barbarity! For it doesn’t matter as to what a person is accused of, every individual existing in this world has a fundamental right to fair trial – for the person accused of crime might be a savage but we have to ensure that our society and state doesn’t metamorphose into one! The right to fair trial is so revered around the world that it has its mention in a large number of Constitutional documents around the world, including its mention as Article 15 in International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and as Article 10A in the Constitution of Pakistan.
The principle of fair trial by an impartial judge and passing a sentence only when the prosecution has proved its case against the accused “beyond a reasonable doubt” is so important that Barrister John Mortimer QC, deriving inspiration from Honourable Viscount Sankey, declared it to be the ‘Golden Thread’ holding civilization together. In cases where the accused is murdered in cold blood by state officials taking law into their own hands, despite all innocent intentions that they might have, justice is never served, and human dignity becomes the first causality! It is therefore necessary that, instead of hailing officials breaking democratically enacted laws as heroes, unconditional condemnations be sent their way, and punishments be meted out.
This brings us to the last part of the discussion i.e. “if not severe punishments, what might help us reduce crimes, and especially crimes of sexual nature?”. History and prudence both suggest that across the board reforms at grassroot level, including education and awareness pertaining to sexual violence, its causes etc, as well as investing in training of police officers in the area of forensic investigation, and ensuring that the evidence collected by them is done so in a professional manner. For it is a commonly known fact that most cases fall apart because the evidence collected by investigation teams is tainted – mainly due to lack of proper training.
Emotional reactions to incidents rarely help us sort things out, therefore making it necessary that reason, intellect, and compassion, instead of barbaric instincts, and wild emotions, be given the prime seat in finding a way out.
The author is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He tweets @sheraza29