When it comes to sex crimes in Pakistan, is it better to remain silent?
Today, I am going to address one of the least talked about issues in Pakistan – sexuality. Our religious-conservative society does not encourage dialogue in this sphere, due to the stigma of immorality attached to sex, leaving little room for awareness on related issues.
The topic of sex includes sex crimes, which also shares the same taboo status. This results in a very ugly scenario; uglier than what the common mind can anticipate. Snubbing such issues and covering up sex crimes leads to a misunderstanding of their nature which often causes victim blaming and an institutional lack of rehabilitation for the offender and support for the victim.
Firstly, I would like to draw attention to the recent news about a speech impaired man who was sexually assaulted in Islamabad and the police refused to file his complaint. A point to be noted is that a significant percentage of sexual assault takes place at police stations or by policemen.
His path to justice was blocked in the same way it is usually blocked for most female victims of sexual assault, for whom an additional barrier to justice is the silence imposed upon them to avoid shame. News about a child being sexually assaulted by a school (Convent) peon in Islamabad has been circulating on social media since the past couple of days. There was a protest outside the school, as it allegedly tried to cover up the instance. The 2014 documentary called ‘Pakistan’s Hidden Shame’ draws attention to the rape and prostitution of underage boys on the streets of Pakistan and exposes some harsh realities of our society.
The issue I intend to address is the dubbing of such problems as immoralities or individual acts of moral decadence, something to make you turn your head around in the opposite direction and spit out the bile you can taste when reminded of such corruption. Sex crimes are not merely results of overarching moral corruption or lack of religiosity. Often there are substantial underlying causes which need to be addressed before any possible strategy for their eradication, or containment, is to be devised.
I will build my argument around the problem of paedophilia, as it is perceived as a perversion caused by moral corruption. ‘Moral corruption’ is the word some people used when graves were dug up and acts of cannibalism were committed – it is a term we often use, or misuse to undermine, crimes caused by mental disorders. Many view homosexuality in the same light and therefore same-sex rape can be snubbed in the same way.
Paedophilia is a sexual orientation [Cutler, Brian L. (2008)]. Like heterosexuals are attracted to the opposite sex and homosexuals are attracted to the same, without having a choice in the said matter, paedophiles are sexually attracted to minors. Therefore, a paedophile is likely to repeat their crime; adding to this, there are no registries for sex offenders in Pakistan and since it is not even recognised as a disposition, there are scarcely any instruments present to diagnose, let alone rehabilitate, the offenders. Acts of paedophilia, like all other sex crimes in Pakistan, are scarcely reported and coupled with the tolerance society has for underage marriage; fewer yet are capable of recognising the gravity of such crimes.
As the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan said about child molestation,
“It’s one of the most sad and shameful aspects of our society… I’m totally embarrassed by this.”
This statement fairly summarises the general view Pakistani society has on this issue which is a sad and shameful element. Some who do recognise that sex with a minor is unethical, but do not know that it is a sexual orientation, might prescribe religious repentance and appealing to God for the eradication of such immorality from society. But sexual urges do not cease to occur by repenting for a sin committed in the past when those urges materialised. The urges will continue, and the threat will exist without the illness ever being diagnosed and, subsequently, never being treated.
Another problem with snubbing something as ‘shameful,’ even when it is said in strong condemnation, is that it leads to its cover up by everyone involved– the police, the media, the offender, the offender’s (possibly innocent or unaware) associates (case in point: Convent School, Islamabad), and even by the victims and their families. The impact of shame is exemplified by the fact that the disabled man sexually assaulted in Islamabad, whose complaint was not filed, did not relate the incident even to his family, who only found out after the victim had been ill for a month and medical reports showed signs of sexual assault.
Is the police’s refusal to file a complaint a matter of indifference or reluctance to get one’s hands dirty in crimes committed out of sexual deviance? Is the Pakistani society, including our average cops, even capable of recognising that even fully able and grown men can be raped and they have the right to seek legal aid when they have been victims of a relatively rare crime?
The government needs to break down the taboo associated with all topics related to sex and that would include sexual assault. The element of shame needs to be eliminated from the minds of people if offenders are to be stopped and victims are to be accommodated. Paedophiles should be able to recognise their state of mind and seek help accordingly, which means that there should be means for their rehabilitation and management. Children and parents should be made wary of the threat and there should be places where victims can go for help.
Until social views regarding an issue do not change, it is impossible to have law enforcing institutions combating the problem. Just like honour killings are tolerated by law enforcement institutions because they are tolerated by society, the cover up of sex crimes and the lack of legal help available to victims are part of the same story. A lot of steps need to be taken in a direction that Pakistan is not even yet pointing its nose towards, to install the machinery required for the prevention and management of sex crimes, which involves allowing the victims access to justice and their rehabilitation.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.