Sexual Violence: Victim Blaming Culture Must End
Another day another disappointment by PM Imran Khan. In a society in which rape culture is deeply entrenched, the Premier of the country needs to make his statements with utmost responsibility keeping in mind the far-reaching implications such victim-blaming and rape apology will have on people who are more than happy to hold victims accountable.
The term “victim-blaming” entails placing the blame of the criminal act on the victim and their circumstances. Victims of sexual violence are the most viciously targeted especially in our society, though western societies are not entirely bereft of this phenomenon too. If a victim steps forward with their story the initial inquiry is regarding the modesty of their attire and the time and place they were at when the incident occurred.
This isn’t the first time the PTI administration has resorted to victim-blaming. Earlier during the motorway gang rape case the hand-chosen CCPO continued to brazenly blame the woman for being out of her home at the wrong time, despite the severe backlash for his statements. Not only did he place the entire onus on her, but he also went on to make assumptions about her role as a wife and that she must have been traveling at night against her spouse’s permission, in an attempt to further demonize her. The furor went unnoticed by Prime Minister Imran Khan who then went on air to claim that rapes were an obvious outcome of lack of pardah and increased divorces.
In his recent interview with HBO host Jonathan Swan he gave the most convoluted statements that provide an insight into his misogynistic approach to sexual violence and an unsettling dearth of awareness concerning the subject. He claimed sex abuse was fast spreading which occurs when temptation increases in society but also stated that in Pakistan men and women did not have the chance to mingle freely. He expressed his embarrassment at the low rate of reporting with a scrunched face. In his own words, 99% of rape crimes go unreported which was due to society’s idea of dishonor in rape but in the same breath also claimed rape is invited by the attire the victim wears. He pointed out a very legitimate problem which is child abuse but attached the abuse to children’s access to obscene material even though it’s the adults abusing them.
All in all, the recklessly issued statements will only serve to embolden men to commit more harassment and rapes as the convenient excuse regarding lack of modesty is being reinforced by one of the most influential leaders of the Muslim world. Since what constitutes modesty is relative, the narrative as to why the crime happened could easily be turned against the victim discouraging them from reporting.
The discussion of modesty and attire and considering it a vital factor when it comes to sexual offences is wrong because rape, as found by several researchers, is not a crime of lust but control. If the skin is what entices men to become frenzied savages then how is child abuse endemic in religious seminaries where the children are covered from head to foot and nobody has access to objectionable content imported from Bollywood or Hollywood.
Just recently the case of Mufti Aziz ur Rehman has once again shed light on the systematic abuse of children that goes on in religious seminaries. Some people were quick to blame the victim. However, the Mufti confessed to his crimes on Monday. This is not an isolated incident from religious seminaries that are wholly governed by religion. What was enticing about the clothing of little Zainab or all the zainabs before and after her? The truth is that rape is about control.
Rape is not a lust crime as propagated to allow men to get away with sexual deviance and hold victims responsible for their plight. Rape for a rapist is about the subjugation of the victim rather than sexual gratification otherwise ratio of rape crimes in promiscuous societies would be close to zero, but it isn’t.
Rape occurs because the gratification is derived from the control and violation of the victim’s body without their consent. The aspect that further makes rape a rewarding crime is the realization of lack of justice, society’s tendency to blame victims, and the warped notion of honor being lost due to rape. The rapists are acutely aware that their victims will have to climb mountains to get justice, hence making rape a rewarding and low-risk offense.
Rape has nothing to do with victims actions and has everything to do with the rapists’ intent. This dissent to victim-blaming is met with the religious argument about purdah being obligatory for women, however what is willfully ignored is that there are no exemptions for rapists if the victim was supposedly immodest or immoral.
Sharia law gives no immunity to sex offenders.
It has been observed in PLD 2021 Supreme Court 550 “A woman whatever her sexual character or reputation maybe was entitled to equal protection of law. No one had the license to invade her person or violate her privacy on the ground of her alleged immoral character. Even if the victim of rape was accustomed to sexual intercourse, it was not determinative in a rape case. The real fact in issue was whether or not the accused committed rape on her.”
The Criminal law Amendment 2016 deleted Article 151(4) of the Qanoon-e-Shahadat Ordinance which stated the credit of a witness may be impeached when a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, it may be shown that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character to prevent the victims from being blamed or denied justice based on character.
Apart from patriarchal impulse, another reason why people tend to hold victims responsible is the just-world phenomenon. Deep down we all tightly hold onto the belief that the world is a beautiful place and all the wrongs that happen are caused by victims own ill actions, thus giving ourselves a faux sense of protection from such grotesque violence inflicted upon body, mind, and soul. Since such crimes tarnish our worldview and perception of safety, people find it easier to hold the victims responsible for calling it upon themselves.
When people feel powerless they blame the victim because it’s the easier thing to do than face the truth that the world is an unsafe place where bad things can happen to good people and the next target could very well be us or our loved one.
If we as a society are truly determined to curb sexual violence we need to first change our perception of the motivation of the crime. There is a need to hold our leaders responsible for their problematic stances that endanger lives, no matter how beloved or revered they may be. We need to realize that sexual violence is not caused by the circumstances of victims. Rape is a rapist’s fault, there are no ifs and buts here.
The writer is an Advocate High Court, with a masters degree in Political Science and pursuing one in law, working through her association B.R.U Law Associates and NGO ProNature. She can be reached at [email protected].