A perfect victim

On 13th September, a 5 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 rapists 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, 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.

Written for The Express Tribune

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Misogyny

Imagine you’re a person with an opinion who one day voices it online or in print. Now imagine waking up to an inbox full of threats, of details on how you should be raped and degraded sexually simply for having an opinion. This doesn’t just sound horrific, it actually is. And worse still, this is quite common.

Just about every woman who has ever expressed an opinion that goes against the grain will have faced this scenario. Just about all of us who write are subjected to vicious online assaults and when we choose to speak up, we’re accused of whining unnecessarily. The freedom to offend is a dear one and should be protected. The right to free speech demands it.

However, what this ignores are some ethical aspects of this issue. In a pervasive rape culture, trivialising violence against women has severe repercussions. ‘Rape culture’ allows for the degradation of women, which, in turn, manifests itself through the actual practice of violence against women. And the acceptability of this kind of rape culture in the media allows victim blaming to flourish, which prevents women from speaking up or seek justice.

Those who say rape culture doesn’t exist only need to take a look at statistics as well as the attitude within the police force, which is supposed to be protecting rape victims. We live in a culture where women hesitate to report any violence done to them because of the traditional view that a ‘good’ woman would not be raped and if she is, will never go public with the fact or speak up against it. In essence, their trauma is heightened.

Years ago, when I was an intern at an NGO that was conducting a training session with the heads of jails across Pakistan, I experienced just how prevalent such a culture was. One of them argued that if I was raped on the street, it would be my fault for I would be “asking for it” by wearing short sleeves and baring my arms.

These attitudes are common globally and are strengthened through pop culture. Rap songs are especially notorious for promoting misogyny. TV shows also strengthen stereotypes where the ‘bad woman’ is blamed for her suffering and the ‘good woman’ is one who endures abuse and embraces it. Misogyny in pop culture reduces women to mere objects worthy of violence.

Take the example of Honey Singh, a rapper whose lyrics have caused an uproar in India. A song attributed to him from 2006, which he denies writing, glorifies rape and romanticises male power over women. In the song, a man dreams of raping and beating a woman. Should we seriously turn a blind eye to this and pretend that he has no impact on young men and even women who may think violence against them is normal and acceptable?

Some say Honey Singh is being targeted in a world where rap culture finds misogyny acceptable. It is, after all, a product of the industry. Some argue that the fact that he didn’t write the lyrics means he shouldn’t be held accountable. But even if Honey Singh didn’t write these lyrics, the fact that he sang them seems like an endorsement of such violence. Unless we want to turn a blind eye to rape apologists, we need to start somewhere.

Perhaps it’s just Singh’s bad luck that his work has caused uproar but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start this desperately needed conversation now. In fact, let’s embrace this and continue talking in the hope that we can change the world by actively fighting against the forces that oppress us. And yes, that includes music, which humans connect with emotionally.

Published in The News.