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Pakistan: Victim-blaming for gang rape spurs outcry

September 11, 2020

Activists have called for the removal of a police officer after he blamed a gang rape on the victim for driving at night. Lahore's police chief Umer Sheikh said the victim also should not have driven on an empty road.

Rape NO written on a woman's hands during a protest in Islamabad
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Naveed

Rights groups are calling Friday for the removal of a police chief in Pakistan who blamed the victim of a gang rape for driving at night without a male companion. 

Two men dragged a woman and her children out of their car on a highway, raped her in front of her kids and robbed her, after she ran out of fuel outside of the eastern city of Lahore on Wednesday evening. 

A call for help to police did not receive a response, a family member said. Lahore's police chief, Umer Sheikh, triggered the uproar on Thursday after he said the crime was the woman's fault for leaving the house at night and driving on an empty road.

Read more: Pakistan: How to approach the issue of rape amid a political controversy

Officer has 'no credible professional record'

Sheikh said no one in Pakistani society would "allow their sisters and daughters to travel alone so late," and that the victim, a resident of France, probably "mistook that Pakistani society is just as safe" as her home country.

"The victim-blaming was made by a police officer who has no credible professional record, is politically appointed and should be removed," Talal Chaudhry, an opposition politician told DW.

Some critics also denounced what they believe to be a patriarchal attitude and legislation within the judicial system.

Pakistan and revenge rape culture

"The rape culture [in Pakistan] is the result of anti-woman state policies and a patriarchal mindset," women's rights activist Farzana Bari told DW.

"The punishment for gender-based crimes in Pakistan is way too low," she said, adding that rights groups are calling for a nationwide protest on Saturday in solidarity with the victim.

"This attitude is prevalent among police and investigation officials," Osama Malik, a lawyer, told DW. "Many women's rights laws have been passed but the laws still use archaic terminology such as 'insulting modesty.'"

Read more: Mukhtaran Mai: 'More Pakistani women are demanding their rights now'

'Caveman sexism'

Several politicians, activists, lawyers and celebrities also joined the call for Sheikh's removal. 

"For an officer to effectively blame a woman for being gang raped by saying she should have taken the GT Road or question as to why she went out in the night with her children is unacceptable & have taken up this issue. Nothing can ever rationalise the crime of rape. That's it," tweeted Shireen Mazari, Pakistan's Minister for Human Rights.

"The temporary outrage is not enough — cavemen sexism is embedded in society & needs educational reform," wrote Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari, the daughter of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Read more: Cynthia Ritchie on Pakistan rape allegations: 'I hope my experience helps other victims'

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and a leading feminist group have called for nationwide protests on Saturday, particularly in the capital, Islamabad, and in Lahore.

The regional government in the province of Punjab has not responded to calls to remove Sheikh. The gang-rape took place just days after a 5-year-old girl was killed after being sexually abused in the southern city of Karachi. 

Haroon Janjua contributed reporting from Islamabad.

lc/sms (dpa, AFP)