Naming and shaming rape victims

Published: March 26, 2012

In recent years, some sections of the press have displayed some awareness regarding the sensitivities involving coverage of rape cases. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

The Pakistani media can play an important role in assisting women. Journalists have the power to reveal hidden and not-so-hidden biases that society has regarding women, especially rape victims.

Unfortunately, our newspaper reports are heavily biased against women who have been raped and assaulted and reinforce the existing non-supportive attitude of society towards these women. As for television coverage of rape, it is noted with much resentment that many times these victims are put through more humiliation with extensive and unnecessary attention.

17-year-old Uzma Ayub was the rape victim in what was popularly known as the Karak rape case. After being abducted and kept in custody for 13 months where she was gang-raped and became pregnant, she was harassed by journalists earlier this year from her home all the way to her hospital bed.  Chairperson of Human Rights Zohra Yusuf says: “In the case of Uzma Ayub, the victim has been blamed since the beginning.”

Director of Uks, an organisation that oversees the media’s coverage on women, Tasneem Ahmer says: “People are not really aware of what it means to expose their identity and need to be trained to deal with reporters.  It is not fair to throw a person in front of the media just because it makes a good story.”

The media needs to seriously redress this insensitivity;  rape victims’ pictures are printed in newspapers as well as repeatedly flashed on TV. At times the news is presented in a way that makes it seem as if the victim is the sinner.

In their haste to come first in delivering the news to their audience and for the sake of popularity, some news organisations are happy to compromise on ethics. Getting the juiciest scoop that will baffle the minds of viewers is a priority, so all thought of a code of conduct is forgotten.

A reporter from ARY News got an opportunity to enter the victim’s room after her delivery and started questioning her about the child’s birth. The reporter, Shazia Nasir, justified her act by stating:

It is completely unethical to ask such questions, but there is too much pressure on reporters to get the story. If I would not have done it, Express News or GEO would have.

Incidents like the DHA and Shahkot rape cases that sparked controversies were aired without a check on content by most television channels. Therefore, it is essential that a standard code of ethics is followed by all media organisations, who should then inform employees that such mishaps should be avoided.  Reporters and sub-editors should be given proper training on how to report and write these stories.

In recent years, some sections of the press have displayed some awareness regarding the sensitivities involving coverage of rape cases. English dailies like The Express Tribune and Dawn now avoid naming rape victims. Others must follow suit and citizens should campaign to inform those from the media fraternity who still publish names and photographs.

It is encouraging to see that the number of news items where names, addresses and other details were mentioned in bold letters in connection with rape cases are fewer today. More and more reporters now seem to recognise the fact that women are not merely objects, but human beings and thus the practice of maligning their characters, exposing them through identification and questioning their version of the truth is unethical behaviour.

Media groups make many excuses for these lapses in judgment. It is a competitive industry with a 24/7 news cycle and an audience that has an insatiable appetite. But taking that into account, there must be a certain level of professionalism that must be maintained if it is to be considered a respectable profession that serves for the benefit of society.

The public should, without a doubt, be made aware if there are vicious attackers on the loose, so as to take appropriate measures to protect themselves, but the purpose of providing a heads up is lost when the details of the victim are paraded and the attacker remains unknown.

Read more by Madiha here. Follow her on twitter @mistful83.


Madiha Akhtar

A freelance writer, an avid reader and a blogger, she has worked as a field reporter for a brief period and has written articles as a freelancer for different publications. She tweets as @mistful83 (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • fawwad

    In our society blaming the rape victim is the first thing we do. ”usnay sahi kapray nai pehnay hongay,usnay pardah nai kia hoga,wo jeans t-shirt may thi” ,the rape victims in our country get to hear all types of disgusting abuses and blame hurled their way.The rapist in never blamed,he gets away scot free,all responsibility for getting raped is heaped onto the head of the girl raped.
    We don’t tell our boys not to rape ,but we tell our girls to not get raped.
    There is no responsibility on men to be held accountable for their crimes.They are allowed to go on and carry on with their lives as usual.Recommend

  • Arifa Batool

    I completely agree with the writer.Recommend

  • lubna khan

    Too many times have i heard women blaming the raped girl.We think that misogyny stems only from men but that’s false,the women in our society,even the well-educated ones are highly misogynistic.Too many times have i heard women saying that the victim herself was wearing western clothes,was not wearing a burka or that she had make up on.And these are sentiments coming from other women themselves!! giving free pass to men for their actions and targetting women only reveals the regressive and self hating mentality of the majority of our female population.Recommend

  • saira anwar

    ” Don’t teach me how to dress,teach them not to rape ”.

    That i raped her because she was not wearing a burka or hijab is no defense or argument for raping anyone.Our society’s men must learn how to behave like civilised humans.Recommend

  • faisal bawany

    The tragic thing is that the women in pakistan marry guys who have raped girls as long as they earn good money.If rapists were made into social pariahs and outcasts then they would know the high cost of raping anyone.But our society doesn’t punish rapists or sexual harassers.They are allowed to use the qisas and diyat laws to buy their way into a settlement with the rape victim’s family and they carry on their lives as usual.Recommend

  • Beenish jawed

    @lubna khan:

    Don’t know about other cultures but in our society, women support the men raping,beating up or abusing other women.Even the women’s rights activists,feminists and NGO aunties only promote women’s rights as long as their brothers,sons or fathers are not involved.All the love for feminism and women’s rights goes out the door the moment their brothers or sons are caught harassing or raping other women,then they join in blasting the rape victim as being of loose character and deserving of rape.
    This hypocrisy was visible a few days ago,when liberal bloggers,feminists,progressive twitterati were supporting and justifying the use of violence by a sporting personality at his arrival back home,these liberal women are usually the most vocal in condemning men for their violence,but when it was their favourite cricketer,they abandoned all ethics and went all out to defend the use of violence and aggression.
    The double standards and hypocrisy by female activists and feminists should end.Recommend

  • http://[email protected] Muhammad Umer Hayat Malick

    Very articulated at all, my comment just on rape incidents.
    It is very tragic that incidents happen everyday, far before a decade the incident was discussed and names of the girls raped were not shown. It is a good side of the story that media and the victims are now encouraged to discuss on record. But it is our failure on the whole that we dont recognize the over all impact on the victims, their families and leave the rapists by just blaming that the victim was not willing to marry or was wearing un-ethical style of clothing. It is our society over failure, first we have not taught our generation that what are the morals, and Pakistan is becoming more and more suffocated society which leads to such incidents. Suffocation in the sense that on one side we want all morals and values to be imposed, but we dont teach our generation/ society and family how to behave. And secondly we discuss about the europe and america that how do they behave. But in Pakistan we dont punish the rapist or give him more relaxations and benefits of doubt. Just for information that in some european states (my personal knowledge at first hand) the rape and harrassement is punished very strictly and have to pay a lot of fine too, yes the Rape and Harrassement. So just closing the eyes to surpass the victims is not good.
    @ Saira Anwer … your comment is valid. How mean he is that the rapist is to justify his Dreadful act on something which is not so harmful ie dressing. Recommend

  • er er

    rape survivor – not rape victim. Recommend

  • Vikram

    How can people blame a women for getting raped? Women wearinf burqa are also raped in many countries, so blaming women wearing certain kind of clothes does not make sense. Women get raped by their own family members. In some cultures if a woman reports rape she puts herself in danger of being killed by the family or being arrested by the police for getting raped. A few months ago, a girl in Afghanistan was sentenced to 14 years in prison for getting raped (Sharia). Her sentence was reduced AFTER she agreed to marry the rapist. Women in Pakistan get convicted of Zina if they report rape.If a girl’s dress is responsible for her getting raped, how come Muslim men in US, UK or Germany don’t rape women dressed in bikini. I know a few Muslim personally in USA who keep their wives in burqa at home but love to brag about their love affairs. Recommend

  • Vikram

    @saira anwar:
    Women get molested and raped in burqa too. These things are quiet common in countries like Afghanistan that is why talibans burn girls schools, to keep girls safe from adult Muslim men, me thinks. Recommend

  • Ali

    To the above commenter, the issue of dressing goes out the window when you see that these girls are middle class children who mostly DO cover themselves as part of their religion. A simple vile cannot protect our girls from these animals who think they are gods. We need an iron curtain of society’s will to do justice to stop these crimes. Recommend

  • The Only Normal Person Here.

    Extremely well articulated. Recommend

  • http://- Abid P. Khan

    “how come Muslim men in US, UK or Germany don’t rape women dressed in bikini. “

    It is not uncommon to be topless on Tunisian or Turkish beaches, Hordes of tourists from Arab countries and Iran visit South Eastern Mediterranean to enjoy the freedom of moving around topless, specially as rules governing physical exposure are far stricter in their own countries. No one gets raped for that, nor are women charged for being provocateurs.

    It simply boils down to teaching people how to respect each others’ personal sense of space, a concept that does not exist in Pak society.

    Every ones business is my business.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I think you have said it very well, now lets hope more people listens and act on it.Recommend

  • Sana

    If a man cannot control his whims and desires, he is nothing but an animal. A rapist is an animal because he does not care about the victim but just wants his desires to be fulfilled. So my point is, no matter how you dress an animal will stay an animal and so we ought to treat rapists like animals. PS: I apologise to animal kingdom for using you specie as I have seen even animals dont force copulate if female does not desire them.Recommend

  • Pakistani

    There should be strict law of punishment for the man who is involved in this barbaric incident. Recommend

  • http://- Abid P. Khan


    “There should be strict law of punishment for the man who is involved in this barbaric incident.”

    I am afraid the discussion is not about the strictness of law, but about the inequalities that exist in the society. The poorer class having deplorable level of education, at times none at all, have very little idea about the intricacies of law and the role of courts or lawyers, thus are less likely to obtain proper justice. They cannot afford to hire an expensive lawyer while the adversaries can.

    However, the major setback that still remains is the clout political and otherwise of the adversary, which s/he has as being a member of the privileged class.

    A solution could be involving more jurists in Pro Bono work. Recommend

  • Mohammad Usama

    Laws, Rules, Regulations, Constitution!! All do exist and speak volumes for the safeguard of women but these can only be effective IF THEY ARE IMPLEMENTED!

    No one dares to set examples, absolutely no one!
    No one ever attempts to take action, from Hawaldar, Police officers(SHO’s, TPO’s, IG’s) to FIR, and then to Judges and and judgements all get full marks in aggravating this issue by simply not doing what they are suppose to do!!!
    Justice MUST be SEEN TO be DONE

    these media people especially their Heads, Managers and Directors, i have just one Question to ask them: WOULD U PUBLICIZE IF (god-forbid), ONE SUCH RAPED WOMAN IS YOUR DAUGHTER, MOTHER, SISTER etc..???? Recommend

  • Umer Farooq

    @Madiha..its good to see you wrote some thing and as far as i know, this is the first time i have come across such kind of thing..
    yes Shazia is right to claim if she had refused to cover Uzma at her room (it was kitchen of the house in fact), others would have done it, so why not Shazia first.. i was there, the time Shazia was covering her…but now, as she herself read this story, she has now admitted to have done some thing wrong…but the most important thing i would like to mention here is that other media person, who went through this story of yours, also criticized Shazia…it means, those media persons who criticized Shazia, would take care in covering such stories in future..Recommend

  • Vikram

    @Mohammad Usama: “No one ever attempts to take action, from Hawaldar, Police officers(SHO’s, TPO’s, IG’s) to FIR, and then to Judges and and judgements all get full marks in aggravating this issue by simply not doing what they are suppose to do!!!”

    Want to see what police do to powerless women in Pakistan search ” Pakistan police sex woman ” in youtube.

    I am sure many women get raped in Muslim countries just because women just keep quiet for fear of shame, fear of getting killed by their families or being arrested by police.

    Recently I read about an Afghan woman who was sentenced for 14 years for getting raped. She was offered a chance to reduce her sentence if she married the guy who raped her.Recommend

  • Madiha

    @Umer Farooq:
    Thank you Umer Recommend

  • http://[email protected] Muhammad Umer Hayat Malick

    @ all those discussing about Strcit Laws etc, i would like to say that the awareness of the repercussion of the rape incident is only way to avoid it. The parents, educaitonists and the society say a lot of things to the person about his life but no one speaks about it as it is norm of society not to discuss the issues of sex etc and then also no formal education about the impact of the rape incident on the family, girl and the relatives. As the writer stated that society only blames the victim; but no one concerns about the culprit. Recommend

  • http://- Abid P. Khan

    Violating norms of the society is severely punished In the land of Hejaz. Has the 1400 years old practice of chopping hands or heads, hindered any perpetrator from committing crimes?Recommend

  • http://[email protected] Muhammad Umer Hayat Malick

    @ Abid P Khan … Here we are discussing Pakistan and its society and religion … i think let the saudis and the Pure Land of Hijaz People do their own decision and here the blog writer also aimed for Pakistan and its society. I think it is better to discuss own issues here rather than other world ie Pure Lands etcRecommend

  • http://- Abid P. Khan

    @Muhammad Umer Hayat Malick:
    “Here we are discussing Pakistan and its society and religion “

    I agree on the irrelevance of Saudi values and legal system generated by that, vis a vis Desi values. At the same time one cannot ignore the fact thatSharia Laws, a barbarous product of the Bedouin culture, has been “imposed” already, in the Northern Areas of Pakiland.

    Supporters of this twisted vision are threatening to force such laws, even in the rest of Puristan? The future is feared. According to newspapers, the number immigrants from this land has increased. Recommend

  • Hina Shahid

    Dressing has nothing to do with rape. Mukhtara maii & Shazia Khalid wasn’t wearing revealing clothes due to which they got raped. Blaiming the rape victim is the most disgusting thing can ever happen.Recommend