Pakistan's shameful denial of male rape

Published: July 29, 2016
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PHOTO: EXPRESS

PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI    : In the discreet corner of an under-construction building, Nasir* sat on the chest of a lifeless body, thumping so hard you would expect the ribcage to break any second. His victim, 14-year-old Jamal*, was first sexually assaulted and then murdered by putting a plastic bag over his face and wrapping the elastic waistband of his own shalwar around his neck. The final blows by Nasir were to make sure Jamal breathed his last in front of his eyes and no witness was left at the crime scene.

According to non-governmental organisation War Against Rape (WAR), Nasir was a serial rapist and destroyed many lives for his sexual desires but was caught when he raped another teenager and was unsuccessful in suffocating him in the same manner.

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While Nasir is now on trial for sexual assault and murder, not many cases of sexual violence against men in Pakistan are brought to light. In our patriarchal society, there’s this widespread assumption that males are not raped but news reports and data collected by activists suggest otherwise. In this month alone, two cases of sexual assault on men were reported from Peshawar, one of which was a gang rape.

“In Pakistan, it is unacceptable that someone can rape men. Men believe they are the strongest and they can hurt others but no one can hurt them,” says Rukhsana Siddiqi, survivors’ support officer at WAR.

Cases of male rape, Siddiqi says, almost never become public because the survivor and their family don’t disclose the incident. Eighteen-year-old Ahmed* was sexually assaulted by the enemies of his father as a threat. The family publically denied the incident but confided to WAR that they will not pursue a legal case because they want to hide the abuse.

“The number of reported cases of male rape is considerably less than cases of female rape, but because the cases are never discussed, the problem is not addressed nor solved. There’s no rehabilitation, counselling or treatment for them. I am sure there are many cases in which even the families don’t find out about the abuse,” she says.

Twenty-two-year-old Bilal*, who moved to a new city in search of a living, was regularly raped by his boss who used his financial weakness to manipulate him. Bilal did not file a complaint not only because he was his family’s sole bread-earner and needed the job, but also because he felt no one would believe him as his abuser was a man with a long beard who fasts and observes itikaf during Ramazan.

Hidden toll of stigma

Owing to how we view masculinity in Pakistan, males are not expected to share their problems. And with sexual abuse sometimes seen as a matter of male honour, the survivors are deprived of the process of sharing and unburdening.

Nida Idrees, psychologist and director of WAR, says male survivors don’t get to talk about their emotions and as a result, can become more frustrated than women. “Talking about sexual abuse is a taboo in our society; it is still acceptable for women to share their ordeal but for men, it is very difficult to discuss what they went through,” she says.

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“Because there is no catharsis and no way to get justice, there’s a higher chance of male survivors suffering from depression,” Idrees adds. Due to these additional challenges for men, the psychologist says the survivors either become very timid or extremely negative sometimes developing feelings of revenge.

For men and boys who do try to speak up, Idrees says it is a taxing process. “Most survivors fear to report abuses because of social repercussions and also because how our justice system is structured. Questions asked by police, which is the first step to seeking justice, are demeaning,” she says.

Support officer Siddiqi adds that if the survivor has a chance to win, the abusers pester them asking for forgiveness, offering compensation and in extreme cases, using threats to settle the case out of court. “There’s so much societal and legal pressure on them that they are forced to live in obscurity, moving between different cities, changing houses, concealing their real identity and switching phone numbers,” she states.

Fourteen-year-old Fahad* was kidnapped and gang-raped by a few boys from his neighbourhood. Determined to fight for a conviction, his mother filed a case which went on in court for two years, but then Fahad’s uncle was murdered and the family believes it was a threat for them to drop the charges.

Reporting rape

As no one expects to be a victim of violent crimes, many don’t know how to respond to sexual attacks. Asiya Munir, lawyer for WAR, says in case of a sexual assault, the survivor should go to the relevant police station and file an FIR. “If the police are delaying it, go to a government-authorised hospital and get the medico legal examination done. As per the law, the doctor who conducts the examination automatically becomes a witness in the case. Based on the results of the examination, the hospital will call the police of concerned jurisdiction to file an FIR,” she explains.

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Munir says the FIR is sent to court within 24 hours and an investigation officer files an application to a judge to set time for recording statements. “The survivor is brought to a magistrate to record their version and the case begins,” the lawyer says.

Initiating rape cases and taking them till the end is an uphill task, Munir states. “Some judges delay recording statement [and] some are insensitive; there are many small battles to fight,” she points out.

Given the lengthy procedures of our justice system, Munir says cases can go on for years. “Earlier, the cases would continue for five to six years but now the duration has shortened to about three years. Some cases wind up more quickly too. It all depends on the courts and the judges and how quickly they want to wrap up a case,” she adds.

Strangely, the lawyer says, certain judges have this thinking of not hearing a case until it is a few years old. “They continue to hear old cases because they think new cases can wait,” she comments.

While time is one of the challenges, Munir says ideas we hold as a society come into play in courtrooms as well.  “One judge, in front of me, advised an accused to take Holy Quran with him, sit outside the survivor’s house and not move until they forgive him. This is the kind of idea a judge is planting in an accused’s head; an accused who had raped, mutilated and murdered his victim,” she shares.

Then there is also so much denial, Munir laments. “Once there was a case of incest and the judge refused to accept that it is possible a father can abuse his own child but when the statement was recorded, the truth was revealed,” she says.

“Fighting in a system dominated by such men and then getting a judgment is a tough task. It is a daily fight for the lawyers. There are good and bad things about our law and there are some loopholes, which people don’t hesitate to exploit in their favour,” she laments.

On the practise of forgiving the accused, Munir believes our society will not improve through compromises but through convictions and punishments. “I have seen it myself; when there is no death penalty, the accused are very brave but when a case seeks death the accused runs around asking for forgiveness,” she says.

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Munir, however, points out that going through Pakistan’s justice system can be exhausting and can force the complainant to compromise even when they don’t want to. “Interaction with police and the abused and attending trials can take a toll on the survivor. It is easier for them to give up,” she adds.

Shackles of shame

In a society that lives under the assumption that males cannot be raped, Siddiqi says people don’t know how to react if someone close to them is sexually abused. “A 10-year-old boy was raped and his parents reacted as if someone had died in their family; neighbours and relatives would come to their house and condole,” she shares.

The constant discussion about the assault, Siddiqi notes, made the survivor run away from his house twice. “Initially, the boy would hide whenever a guest would come because he knew they would be talking about him and what he went through. Later, he ran away to a different city. Survivors are sensitive and they quickly realise if someone is talking about them or not,” says Siddiqi.

“As activists, there’s only so much we can do. We cannot change the entire society and tell people how to behave. There’s not enough awareness and education in our society to protect people from abuse and then from its aftermath,” she complains.

Unfortunately, Siddiqi says, we have a carefree attitude towards boys and very protective attitude towards girls. “This needs to change. We have to take care of our boys as much as we take care of our girls. In some ways, boys need more attention,” she stresses.

*Names have been changed to conceal identity

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Bunny Rabbit
    Jul 29, 2016 - 4:10PM

    Reducing population will reduce all these social evils . the country should take family planning seriously. Recommend

  • Hassan
    Jul 29, 2016 - 5:00PM

    @Bunny Rabbit:
    Be carefulRecommend

  • sa
    Jul 29, 2016 - 5:20PM

    Homosexuality is prevalent in every society but in Pakistan it is so repressed that men take to rape to satifsy their urges , sexual orientation is not a choice and this types of repression leads to crimes Recommend

  • Aleem
    Jul 29, 2016 - 5:20PM

    @Bunny Rabbit:
    Please think before you blurt out nonsense.Recommend

  • Whatacountry
    Jul 29, 2016 - 6:09PM

    And there are cultures where it is legalized like US.Recommend

  • MA
    Jul 29, 2016 - 7:10PM

    @Whatacountry: but that doesn’t necessarily mean that pedophiles don’t exist in the USA. Recommend

  • curious2
    Jul 29, 2016 - 9:05PM

    @Whatacountry: Rape – male or otherwise isn’t tolerated let alone legalized in the USA. Anti American blather is popular in Pakistan – seldom has substance.Recommend

  • buga
    Jul 29, 2016 - 10:08PM

    So 29 percent of men in Pakistan have been sexually assaulted? If so – then Pakistan moral compass needs adjusting.Recommend

  • Abc
    Jul 29, 2016 - 11:15PM

    @Whatacountry:
    Really? which part of US….please enlighten usRecommend

  • goggi (Lahore)
    Jul 30, 2016 - 1:03AM

    The ancient proverb of the “three mystic apes”, the one covering his eyes with his hands, the second placing his hands on his ears and the third placing his hands on his mouth, symbolize that “See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil!”

    We Pakistanis are brainwashed by the politicians, the maulanas, mass media and their corporate sponsors, that better feign ignorance to the misconduct of others rather than exposing their misconduct. Self-deception and lying are the sacred norms of our society!Recommend

  • Jerfuyt
    Jul 30, 2016 - 2:53AM

    @ABC you’re a fool. Rape is illegal in the US and why is that even being discussed? You sound like a rapistRecommend

  • Bharat
    Jul 30, 2016 - 3:30AM

    We have, at this very moment, a royal commission investigating paedophilia in Australian society

    No one is exempt from examination, including and most certainly the highest preachers here

    Perhaps, Pakiistan should have a parliamentary commission. Recommend

  • Topaz
    Jul 30, 2016 - 3:42AM

    First you have to differentiate between “man harassment” and “child harassment”.Recommend

  • Xena
    Jul 30, 2016 - 6:38AM

    Amazing article! Wasn’t expecting such an open-minded approach to male rape when I clicked on the link (more like skepticism). Extremely educational and the statistics concerning sexual assualt were enlightening.Recommend

  • Sabih Mohsin Saleem
    Jul 30, 2016 - 12:45PM

    Its sad but we as a nation needs to do something about theses issues, ignoring them has not been an effective solution Recommend

  • Abc
    Jul 30, 2016 - 3:16PM

    @Jerfuyt:
    Do you understand sarcasm or does it completely go over your head?Recommend

  • Charcoal
    Jul 31, 2016 - 10:59AM

    Big men don’t shy!Recommend

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