Pakistan outcry over police victim-blaming of gang-raped mother – BBC News

Human rights activists carry placards as they take part in a protest against an alleged gang rape of a woman, in Islamabad on September 12, 2020.Image copyright FAROOQ NAEEM
Image caption Mass protests have rocked all major cities across Pakistan

Pakistan is in shock after robbers gang-raped a woman in front of her children near a motorway. But in a country where sexual violence towards women is common, why has this incident caused people to come out onto the streets and demand change, asks the BBC’s Saira Asher.

Women in Pakistan are often advised by family members or relatives not to be out late at night, or to make sure they have a male companion with them for their safety.

But when a top police official, charged with finding the attackers, implied the victim had been partly to blame for being out after dark alone, it ignited fury.

Comments that previously may not have been publicly questioned are now being called out as victim-blaming.

“Blaming the victim, judging a woman’s character to determine whether she was a victim; these are rooted in our society for decades,” says Moneeza Ahmed, who is part of a feminist collective.

“So the backlash is a sign that our society is listening, changing and a lot more women are speaking up.”

Image copyright ARIF ALI
Image caption Protesters are demanding reforms and for the state to protect women

What happened in the ‘motorway rape’?

At around 3am on 9 September, the woman ran out of fuel on a motorway leading out of the eastern city of Lahore. Her two children were with her.

She called her relatives in Gujranwala who advised her to call the motorway emergency numbers and also set off to help her.

According to the complaint registered with the police by one of the woman’s relatives, the car was broken into by two men in their early- to mid-30s who stole money and jewellery she had on her. They raped her in front of her two children in a nearby field, and then escaped.

Police say she is still traumatised, though she did provide them with some basic descriptions of her attackers.

The next day the most senior police official in Lahore, Umer Sheikh, appeared in front of the media and implied that she had been partly to blame. He questioned why she had not taken a busier road, given that she had been alone with her children, or checked her fuel before departing.

In several TV appearances he reiterated these points, also adding that the woman, who is a resident of France, seemed to be operating under the impression Pakistan was as safe as France.

The reaction was like nothing seen in the country before and came from all quarters.

On social media people called him out for his victim-blaming.

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Pakistan outcry over police victim-blaming of gang-raped mother – BBC News

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