“Our Society Does Not Allow Rape”

“Crime or Custom?” was a report published by Human Rights in 1999 on the state of women’s rights in Pakistan. Authored by Samya Burney, who was researcher at the time for the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch at the time. The report was an indepth look at the way crimes against women particularly those of rape, domestic violence and sexual abuse are treated by the judicial, legal, administrative, medical and societal level.

The report is more than a decade old, but some of the issues of sexist attitudes for example or the taboo for rape victim to come forward were highlighted in the recent Delhi rape case and other cases that came to light after the incident. Below are some of the quotes I pulled from the report that were part of the investigation in putting together the HRW report.

The police are the first point of contact in rape cases and are responsible for collecting evidence and noting down all the information regarding a case. There importance in enabling justice to be served cannot be overstated. From the first collection of quotes it can be surmised that there are a number of misconceptions and a lot of suspicion towards women who report being raped.

-Ashiq Martha, the chief or Station House Officer (SHO) of Ichra Thana, a busy Lahore police station, told Human Rights Watch that non-consensual sexual intercourse virtually does not exist in Pakistan and that in the overwhelming majority of cases women fabricate allegations of rape. According to SHO Martha, rape only occurs in two situations: if the man is of unsound mind or if he acts to avenge his honor against the woman’s family. He added that the absence of visible marks of violence would prove that intercourse was consensual.

-SHO of the Factory Road police station in Lahore told Human Rights Watch that genuine rape cases, along with kidnappings and abductions of women, are extremely rare and that in most instances women run off with men willingly and then lie to avoid being prosecuted for adultery. He added that complainants disingenuously press charges of attempted rape over minor disputes or fabricate charges of sexual violence to settle personal scores. He believed that “[w]omen have a lot of rights” and that “[i]t is wrong of courts to believe women so that the poor man ends up in jail.”

-The SHO of the Women’s Police Station118 in Karachi, Farrukh Sultana, asserted, “Rape is indicated by marks of violence on the woman. In consensual cases there are nomarks, though the woman calls it rape anyway.”
-An NGO activist working with rape victims in Karachi told Human Rights Watch that an officer at the Women’s Police Station had once said to her that rape only occurs with very young girls.
-Echoing the sentiments and proclivities of her colleagues, a senior police officer at the women’s police station in Lahore told Human Rights Watch, “One can tell from looking at the woman if it is a [genuine] rape case. If there are no marks of violence and no circumstantial evidence, the woman can have lied about rape.”

-When asked about the form of domestic abuse commonly referred to as “wife burning” or “dowry death” in Pakistan, the director responded that women burned to death because “stoves were defective” and that “if someone wants to kill there are other means.”

Then there are the doctors and medicolegal staff who are responsible for drawing up the medical report of the victim and also taking DNA and sperm evidence. Quotes like “Women bluff, women make up stories, women lie” are evidence of the suspicion against women who report rape.

-The head medicolegal officer for Karachi, Dr. Nizamuddin Memon, who oversees all medicolegal services in the area, revealed to Human Rights Watch a strong bias against the plight of women victims.122 He almost categorically denied the existence of rape, saying, “A woman who is well developed cannot be raped unless there are four or five men [involved]. One man cannot rape a woman. Only children under five are raped . . . [otherwise] rape is only gang rape. One-on-one cannot be rape unless a gun or other arms are used.” He asserted that women lie when they allege that they were raped by an unassistedman and that he had exposed women brought to the police surgeon’s office123 to be liars by closely questioning them: “Women bluff, women make up stories, women lie. They say, `I was drugged, I was given a whiff of fainting medicine’-but there’s no such medicine. Even if a chicken is abducted it makes a noise. How can a woman be abducted? It’s the boy who suffers in these cases because he gets to spend fourteen years in jail on the basis of false allegations of rape.” Dr. Memon told Human Rights Watch about an examinee who came to his office alleging that her brother had repeatedly raped her: “The police had believed her, but I did not. Fathers may rape daughters, often in old age when they are mentally off, but brothers do not go that far.” He further asserted that there was no question of rape in the absence of visible marks of violence on the purported victim’s body.

-Another medicolegal doctor at the Karachi center said, “There is no institutional or systematic training for medicolegal officers. We learn by consulting our seniors. There should be diploma training so that doctors have to pass an exam before they can work as medicolegal officers.”213 The doctors’ assistants similarly receive no systematic training. In fact, several doctors reported that frequently janitorial staff (“sweepers”) substitute for mortuary attendants, who assist doctors in performing post-mortem examinations.

-Captain Nizamuddin Memon, the chief police surgeon and head of medicolegal services for metropolitan Karachi, exemplified the hostility with which women and girls accused of adultery or fornication are treated:
The day before yesterday, the police brought a zina [fornication] case to our office. The girl was screaming and not letting the lady doctor touch her, acting as if the exam was too painful. Finally the accompanying policewoman had to hit her and persuade her to have the exam. When the doctor did the exam,the girl’s vagina admitted two fingers. So how [in light of the elasticity of the vagina] could the exam have been painful? Clearly the girl had been tutored to make a noise even at the touch of a finger so that she appeared to be a virgin . . . If the vagina admits two fingers, then the girl is used to sex.

-Nazia D., an eighteen-year-old woman charged with fornication, was interviewed by Human Rights Watch while in pre-trial detention at Lahore Central Jail.15 Nazia D. was picked up by the police and taken to Baghbanpura police station after her mother filed a complaint of illicit sex. The police took her to a magistrate who recorded her statement but did not ask whether she would consent to a medicolegal exam. Thereafter she was kept at Baghbanpura police station for three days, after which she was taken for a medicolegal exam. When she told the police that she did not want one, the escorting policeman said, “You will have both the exam and a beating.”16 The examining doctor proceeded with the exam without Nazia D.’s consent. When Nazia D. made clear that she did not want the exam done, the doctor said, “I have to do what I am told.” Subsequently, when she was brought back to the police station lock-up, the police beat her with shoes for having attempted to refuse the medicolegal exam.

The judiciary is the third and the final tier in the process of ensuring justice is served. Prosecutors who state -“Our society does not allow rape” can hardly be expected to prosecute a case without bias.

-a prosecutor from the Lahore District Attorney’s office told Human Rights Watch that he had heard of a conviction in one rape case, but he felt that the woman and her family had fabricated the charge since the defendant had repeatedly alleged his innocence. He further explained, “I don’t believe in rape cases. Women’s consent is always there. If rape exists, it happens in only 1 percent of cases. For example, women may be raped during a dacoity [ambush by armed men], but that is an extremely rare case. Our society does not allow rape.”

-“Our society does not allow rape.” A lower-level prosecutor, Police Inspector Legal Naseer Ahmed of the Model Town Courts, Lahore, told Human Rights Watch that virtually all rape cases are fabricated. “After all,” he said, “if a man tries to rape a woman, she can slap him.”

-Even Judge Javed Qaisar, who is generally regarded as upstanding and sympathetic by women’s rights advocates, told Human Rights Watch, “Generally speaking, there can be no sex without the woman’s consent-I am telling you this as a man. If the woman is drugged or intoxicated, or is a minor, she can be raped. However, a mancannot be potent if he is worried that he will be caught in the act. To rape, a man has to prepare a lot. He cannot just go do it unless he is `high’ or in an altered mental state. In that state, though, he is still legally 100 percent liable.”

-A prosecutor from the Lahore district attorney’s office told Human Rights Watch, “Incest does not occur here, though people might attempt it with small children between the ages of six and twelve.”

You can read the full HRW report “CRIME OR CUSTOM?” here.