Recently, a five-year-old girl was discovered outside Ganga Ram hospital in Lahore. She had been raped and dumped on the street, a victim of a callous man who probably felt he could get away with what he did.
And sadly, he is right. Most men who rape or commit sexualised violence in Pakistan do so with complete impunity. The only difference here is that this little girl is the perfect victim worthy of our pity.
When a child is raped, societal outrage is far greater than when an adult is raped. Children are innocent and we, as adults, realise we have a responsibility to our children collectively. We realise they are worthy of pity if wrong and we acknowledge that sexual crimes against children are criminal. As I write this, the police are actively looking for this rapist, who, if caught, will certainly face the collective wrath of society as he rightfully should. The chances of him being declared guilty are high, certainly much higher than when an adult woman is raped.
There are many reasons why he’ll be seen as guilty by most and many are reductive without a proper understanding why rape occurs. We, as a society, believe rape is about sex and not power despite evidence to the contrary daily. Rape in our culture is largely about honour. Mukhtaran Mai, who despite her brave fight, was the victim of a sexualised honour crime which had nothing to do with sexual lust. Mai’s victims were let off despite the collective outrage, despite the evidence and despite the fact that she had excellent legal counsel.
When a female child, whose body hasn’t experienced any pubertal changes, is raped, we instantly see the victim differently and automatically say she’s innocent. But that’s not the case with females whose bodies have matured. Once a female looks womanly enough to seduce, we blame the victim. Was she really innocent? What was she wearing? Did she have makeup on? If so, didn’t she realise she was tempting men? Why was she out alone? Why wasn’t she with her father, brother or husband? Did she not know that she was asking for it by daring to enter male territory alone?
So while child rapists and paedophiles are seen as evil and vile, rapists of adult women are often seen as the innocent victims of women’s feminine wiles. They are seen as men who were left with no option but to ravage a woman and she is the one who is held responsible for it. This then translates into the victim not being believed by the police who hesitate to register FIRs and then by the courts.
In a patriarchal country, the existence of patriarchal attitudes in court is no surprise. Judges, too blame the victims. Judgements include speculations asking why the victim didn’t scream, completely neglecting the fact that many freeze when they are in danger. Judgements also state that there wasn’t enough physical injury so if a woman is raped, but not left beaten, she is often accused of framing a man for rape.
We also assign degrees of blame on victims not just based on their age, but based on sexual experience. A non virgin who has been raped is often called a “woman of easy virtue” and her rapist is seen as the victim of a seductress.
While I sincerely hope this case opens the floodgates of outrage and leads to a demand that we need to reform our rape laws, we must not leave out the many victims other than female children. This includes boys, transgendered individuals, men, sex workers, and all women, including wives. We don’t recognise marital rape. Wives are property of their husbands who need to submit to them sexually and if they don’t, we feel no pity if force is applied. Our conversation has hopefully begun and this time, we must make it more inclusive than it has been in the past.