Should women bother reporting rape in Pakistan? Yes, it is absolutely necessary, women on the front-lines of helping rape victims used to argue years ago. Now, today, they are not so sure.
“We do not have that kind of clarity anymore because we have seen the result of that reporting,” argued Nazish Brohi, a researcher on the social sector in Pakistan.
She was speaking at a one-day conference on rape organised by the Women’s Action Forum Hyderabad and Karachi chapters on Saturday, June 15, at the Sindh Language Authority in Hyderabad.
Brohi laid out key reasons why women do not report to the authorities if they have been raped. Forget going to the police, women’s families often do not even find out. One reason is simply the stigma of rape and the abuse. But once they go to the police these cases drag on for five, eight, ten years.
“There is the expense of the lawyer, going to court, the cost of living in a big city, and then there is the impact on the family,” she said. All of this has an impact on the woman and her family. “So, the cost of reporting rape is high. But the cost of not reporting rape is also high,” she said.
When a rape is reported two things happen: diverted reporting and attrition. Rape cases are not reported as actual rape cases. Half of the time, they are reported as a dacoity, trespassing, someone beating someone up, murder, or a robbery. “People want to report the crime but they don’t want to report the nature of the crime,” said Brohi.
If there was a rape, it is reported how someone got angry or someone took revenge, or how someone murdered the rapist. By the time it reaches the police and courts, it has turned into a murder case, or a multiple murder case. “But the fact that there was a rape behind it all gets buried,” she said. This is called “diverted reporting”.
Attrition is what happens when a rape case enters the system. Many get to the police station level, but they never make it to trial or they never reach the point of conviction. They slip in the system.
Rape is also not reported because of who the rapists tend to be. We have to factor in the class of the rapist, his political connections, ethnicity, whether he is a stranger or someone the woman knew.
In so many cases we know of, they were not rapes by a stranger. The woman knows her rapist in some way or the other. “It isn’t necessary that he be romantically involved,” clarified Brohi. “He can be from her family, extended family, neighbourhood. He can be a teacher, a cousin—they know each other in some capacity.”
But this makes it even harder to report because you are raising a finger at someone the whole family knows. This is why the family decides the matter should stay within the family and not get out. In fact, if a woman says it was a stranger, said Brohi, there is a higher chance that the police will actually investigate. When it tends to be a stranger, you see more revenge action but this is rare when it comes to men from within the family, she added.
The victim’s class also matters when it comes to reporting rape. “I’m not saying there aren’t rapes in the well-off class. It absolutely happens,” said Brohi. “But a powerful class has even more ways to tackle [the rape]. Their dependence on the State is lower.”
It’s like bottled water. If the rich don’t get it in their taps from the State (say, government-run water board), they buy it from a private company. They don’t insist that the State provide them proper water, they just manage it themselves by some other means.
We often see this in the elite in rape cases, she argued. “Their dependence on the State is lower. They will either keep the case secret or will find some way to take care of it.” They get their own revenge, or relocate the woman, outside the city, outside the country. They have the money and resources. The poor do not.
The working and lower-middle class is most dependent on the State because they have no other way to handle rape cases. “So you see them fighting these cases and these cases becoming more prominent,” Brohi argued. “The burden falls on the class that has the least ability to change the State. The onus is put on that class to change the State.”
A victim’s age also matters when it comes to deciding if a rape should be reported. If a girl is 14 years old or younger, those cases are easier because the people’s, the media’s and the police’s sympathies are with her. “Because no one can ask an eight-year-old if she was involved, or complicit,” said Brohi. No one assumes an eight-year-old was involved in “attracting” rape. But this question is always raised when an older woman is raped. “And if you are a married woman, for whom there is no proof of virginity, it is much harder.”
Brohi cautioned against despondency that nothing is changing. That is like disempowering yourself. Laws have changed in Pakistan in the last ten years. “We tend to ask what use are laws if there is no implementation,” she said. “But implementation will happen only after you change the laws.”
In 2016 we got an amended rape law with progressive changes. There has been a change in the police, and jirgas. After a judgement banning jirgas, the way the media covered them changed. They started to condemn them. Previously jirgas were formally held, in a circle, at an official place, but now it can’t happen that openly.
“The change is incremental. But it is there,” she concluded. “And if we see this as a fight for only women’s activists then we have lost that fight already. Until it becomes a fight by society, I do not think it can be resolved.”