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Does PM Imran Realise He Is Enabling Rape By Engaging In Victim Blaming?

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I began writing this piece in anger. Anger against the inequality, bigotry and misogyny that women of this country have to face every single day. But as I looked up facts and stats of the incidents, I witnessed fear while proceeding with the article. Fear for myself, for my mother, my siblings, friends and for the thousands of women and children in the country who are not even safe within the four wall of their own homes let alone in public spaces — schools, madrassas, markets, hospitals and even graveyards.

According to Current.pk statistics taken from news reports all across the country, between 12 Oct 2020 and 23 June 2021, the total reported rape cases have been 635 with 218 adults, 413 minor and four transgender persons as well as some 52  assault related deaths. Nearly 50 rape attempts were also reported. Shockingly these form only the 41% of the cases reported to the police due to social pressures and legal loopholes. Nearly 22,000 rape cases reported to police across the country in the last six years, and according to official statistics half of the rape cases are registered and the actual number of rape cases in the last five years could be as high as 60,000. However, only 77 accused have been convicted which comprise 0.3% of the total figure.

After the horrifying motorway rape incident, Punjab Governor Chaudhary Sarwar himself issued a fact sheet of rape and kidnapping incidents, stating that 14,850 kidnapping cases involving women, children and girls were reported in Punjab during the last one year. He said some 2,000 women were kidnapped and 80pc of them were allegedly raped during last year while 15pc were killed. He said 980 minors were kidnapped, including the new-borns from hospitals.

One would think with with such figures and high rates of sexual assault, the government would come up with an action plan to prevent and protect victims against sexual violence, but instead the entire government including the prime minister have been reinforcing the mindset that terms rape the fault of every thing under the sun except of course the rapist himself. In the past two months, the prime minister has twice sparked outrage for his insensitive and appalling comments regarding sexual assault. First in April during an interview broadcast on national television where he blamed vulgarity as well as western culture and Bollywood influence as the cause for rape, which led to massive outcry. Many of his supporters said that the PM’s words were taken out of context.

But in an interview with Axios on HBO that aired last Sunday, Imran Khan again made his views clear and said, “If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on the men, unless they are robots. It’s just common sense.”

There is so much wrong with the PM’s comments, with the first being his misogynist and patriarchal thinking that holds women accountable instead of calling out rapists. Further, he did not bother to consider that only women are not raped but in recent years especially 2021 there has been a higher percentage of rape cases in which minors and even men were the victims.

According to NGO Sahil’s report titled “Cruel numbers”, in 2020 there has been a 4% increase in child abuse cases with the age group between 8 and 15 and boys being more vulnerable. With as many as eight children abused in day how can a woman’s dressing be cause for rape of innocent children?

This also makes one ask the question that, was it really the attire that caused assault of a student in madrassa, a delivery boy at Islamic University, Islamabad and the 6 year old Zainab of Kasur. Or was it an abuse of power and an act of derangement?

Imran Khan’s views on rape are not very different from the callous comments made by a former Lahore police chief about the motorway gang rape last year. He blamed the victim for driving late at night and taking a safer route. Another very apt example is when well known cleric Maulana Tariq Jameel made a disturbing assertion that Covid-19 has been unleashed on humanity because of the ‘wrongdoing of women’, last year during a televised prayer, at the Ehsaas Telethon fundraising event, in the presence of the prime minister and top broadcast journalists which lead to a national outrage after which he apologised for having spoken too much.

The prime minister’s regressive views on morality and crimes against women are worrisome and irresponsible especially considering that these were used to condone rape by a figure of authority. The statement also served to reinforce a dangerous narrative which silences the victim and strengthens the transgressor. His is the exact same mindset that is giving rise to the rape culture in Pakistan.

Researcher Emily sulkowicz in her article for Vox.com describes rape culture as culture in which sexual violence is treated as the norm and victims are blamed for their own assaults. It’s not just about sexual violence itself, but about cultural norms and institutions that protect rapists, promote impunity, shame victims, and demand that women make unreasonable sacrifices to avoid sexual assault. And this is exactly what is happening in our country where women are discouraged for speaking out about harassment or assault. If this continues, incidents of rape and sexual violence will continue to rise.

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Naya Daur