Police rape — a grave failure

Published: November 19, 2012
The writer practises law in Lahore and is a recent law graduate from the University of Cambridge

The writer practises law in Lahore and is a recent law graduate from the University of Cambridge

A first encounter with criminal law is expectedly disconcerting. But mine has been exceptionally so. The gang-rape case of a 13-year-old female child victim in Ratta Amral, Rawalpindi, spoke of the baseness of human nature and the extreme vulnerability of rape victims in instances where the state, failing to apprehend their transgressors, facilitates the act of sexual violence against them. These instances represent the perversion of our state and its failure to employ its collective coercive and expressive forces to condemn and protect against heinous crime.

The ‘criminality’ of an act, in legal thought, is structured on its nature as a ‘public’ wrong. An act is not a crime solely because it is morally reprehensible and mandates censure, though this may be so. The ‘moral test’ is at best a normative standard that cannot, on its own, justify the invocation of the state’s coercive powers to penalise conduct. An act is a ‘crime’ because it entails a violation of values critical to the functioning of a community. An attack on the inviolability of human life and integrity, values that underpin the social fabric, is, therefore, an offence against the public and the state, which alone possesses the moral and physical capacity to protect these values. The responsibility to guard against crime falls on the state.

Rape is a physical and psychological attack on a woman’s body, her psychological well-being, integrity and privacy, affecting her ability to function in society. Rape is thus an attack on critical public values and mandates the mobilisation of the state’s protective and condemnatory forces. Where the police — the most visible and accessible functionary of the state and one essentially entrusted with the execution of its protective function — itself becomes the perpetrator of sexual violence, a critical contradiction arises in the criminal justice system.

About 827 cases of rape/gang rape were reported across Pakistan in 2011 (Aurat Foundation, Violence Against Women report). Police officials, in a worrying number of cases, are involved as direct perpetrators of rape, as aiders or abetters or as guardians of the accused, refusing or delaying, on various pretexts, the filing of an FIR and employing intimidation tactics to secure settlements between the victim and her aggressor, prohibited under the law (WAR Report, 2012). It is exactly this conciliatory and guarding role performed by police officials in the Ratta Amral rape case that is under question in a constitutional petition before the Supreme Court. Statistics demonstrate even more condemnable involvement of the police in rape cases. Twenty cases of rape committed by police officials were reported in 2011 and about 10 have thus far been reported in the first half of 2012. A gross majority of such incidents remain undisclosed. The horrific details of a few have attracted media attention: the gang rape of an 18-year-old girl by five members of the Muhafiz Squad in Shiekhupura this March; the gang rape of five female tourists, between 16 and 21 years of age, by three Border Military Police officers near Fort Munro in June; and the gang rape this August by the city and Kaghan police authorities in Manshera of a teenage girl, who has recently withdrawn her complaint, allegedly under pressure from the police.

As custodians of  ‘public’ safety and security turn to attack those entrusted to them for protection, as coercive forces allocated to the police by the state to guard against public wrongs are employed to shield malefactors, whoever they may be, the state fails in the execution of its essential responsibility to defend the values upon which its structures rest. In a society where cultural norms and assumptions weigh in against victims of sexual violence, this state failure is of critical significance. Confronted already by attacks on their character and subjected to social ostracism, a rape victim’s fight for justice is made inexplicably harder and avenues of redress are considerably curbed when those at the fore of the criminal justice system are their chief transgressors. In such circumstances, the state becomes a sponsor of sexual violence, albeit indirectly. That the state reign over these miscreants in the police is critical, not only for the ends of justice, but also in the interest of its own legitimacy and self-preservation.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 20th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Nadir
    Nov 19, 2012 - 10:44PM

    I am sorry to say but most people blame rape victims for bringing it on themselves. People quote the Quran saying that men are unable to control their basic instincts, therefore women should cover themselves up! Eventually, someone will make the same accusations against a 13 year old girl. This sickening state is not just a matter of the law, but also reflects poorly on a society where teenage boys and young men make suggestive and demeaning comments about women, jokes about rapes etc. Its not a stretch to assume that even if a tiny % of a % act on it, it leads to so much misery. Why is this acceptable? Why is it okay to think that girls who dont cover themselves up head to do, are somehow promiscuous? In a pious and Islamic society shouldnt men lower their gaze? Shouldnt the bar be set higher?


  • Toticalling
    Nov 19, 2012 - 11:05PM

    Rape is an interesting topic. What is a rape? many say marrying a minor is rape, In some countries, like Germany even husbands who force sex on their own wives is a rape. DEFINING rape, or trying to, is a sure-fire way to start a row. Does age matter? Must it involve violence? What kind of sex is involved? Is the victim by definition a woman and the perpetrator a man? Do time, location or the parties’ sexual histories play any role?
    Views and laws vary hugely between countries and cultures. In South Africa, where four out of ten women say their first sexual experience was rape, the polygamous president, Jacob Zuma, believes “you cannot just leave a woman if she is ready.” To deny such a woman sex, would be “tantamount to rape”, he told the judge in his 2006 rape trial (he was acquitted).
    In America, where an average of 232 rapes are reported to the police every day, such views would attract instant condemnation. But rape is controversial there too: in an argument about abortions for rape victims, Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican, spoke of “legitimate” rape (which critics took to mean that he thought some rapes were bogus). President Barack Obama countered that “rape is rape”. Political rhetoric (and gaffes) aside, the legal position is that America has no nationwide definition of rape. The federal code refers to “aggravated sexual abuse”; rape definitions vary by state, for example on whether force must have been used.
    In Pakistan getting paly with a girl who says no is not considered rape. We think women have to make men happy, hat is all. How shameful.


  • Syed Hasan Mustafa
    Nov 19, 2012 - 11:24PM

    All well said, good work & well done. You are like my daughter and I must congratulates your parents who should be proud on you. This article gave me a hope that our young graduates from top international universities understands the problems & their solutions.

    Coming to the topic Police Rape- A grave failure: As a Lawyer I am sorry to say that in all our legal system females are not being respected. And again sorry to say that as a society we all do not want to change it.


  • Shahzad
    Nov 19, 2012 - 11:48PM

    The answer is in enforcing the rule of law read the following without fear or favour


  • Parvez
    Nov 20, 2012 - 12:09AM

    Extremely interesting and well written. The police are there to fight crime but until and unless our police force is not depoliticised, nothing will change.
    The police must function in the interest of the public and the prosecution must be so strong that the judge should not be able to skirt dispensing justice because the prosecution was too weak to prove even an ‘open-an-shut’ case.


  • Ex-US Soldier
    Nov 20, 2012 - 2:14AM


    I am a Pakistani American This is a dilemma with Pakistan. Govt sector is corrupt and mismanaged. No power ,no health , no education and no security and yet people die for the same leadership.

    Their is Guantanamo in every union council in Pakistan named as Police station . This is just one case. Only ALLAH knows how many women are abused by police/ feudal lords in Pakistan.

    Not trying to heart the feelings or ego here but its true . You can hate me curse me but these are facts May ALLAH give guidance to all of us and make this country safe place for the coming generations. Aameen


  • Anonymous
    Nov 20, 2012 - 11:09AM

    While living in Karachi, we had a rowdy neighbour who was always checking women out in our building. After some water and parking space disputes, he threatened to rape my wife while I was away work. This attitude of his resulted in several fights, some hospital visits and disrupted our jobs and social life. Obviously, I took the matter to the police station (Dharakshan) where they threatened me that once an FIR had been made, it would be just a matter of my word against his, and neither one of us will benefit from it. So they forced us to hug (5 times) and make up. We moved out of Karachi two weeks later.

    This comes from an educated couple, living in the posh DHA. I can only imagine how bad it must be for people from smaller cities, poorer backgrounds and lesser means. Our beloved country has gone to the dogs, and we must get past the denial stage now.

    Great article Sahar! We have come a long way from our days with YIP and it is good to see we’re finally doing something that will hopefully improve things around here.


  • gp65
    Nov 20, 2012 - 11:26AM

    @Toticalling: Your post is as informative and interesting as the original OpEd. Thank you.


  • muter
    Nov 20, 2012 - 12:00PM

    Kudos to saying what I was thinking. More often than not, we hear people blaming the rape victim – how can a victime of a crime be the cause of the crime itself? That is completely absurd. Its so unfortunate that despite being a so-called Islamic republic, the kind of atrocities, social absurdities, honour killings, child molestation, rape, discrimination; and fair-skin obsession etc etc that PK is famous for makes the ‘Islamic republic’ a very very strong misnomer.

    A 13-year old girl being gang-raped? That is sad. Sad, unfortunate and extremely depressing. Can’t say much though – I mean what do we expect from a depraved society that shoots innocent girls like Malala.


  • Muhammad Kamran Ali
    Nov 20, 2012 - 2:19PM

    Sahar, well said and very well written. I beleive that rape is a stage where a man eleminates differnece between himself and an animal. Unfortunately we are hang in a situation where those who are responsible for saving lives of others, have actually become lives takers and rapists. Police, in our country is itself the biggest casue of all crimes because either they actually involve in it in most of the cases or let the others do it. Police department is in the hand of corrupt people who have made lives of others miserable.
    If police will perform his duties honestly, not even a single rapist can breathe, no one will think to take life of any other, no robberis, no thefts, and nothing else going wrong in any way.
    But we are suffering and we will because there is no hope, no future.
    Rapes will continue, innocents will die in fire of others, and columns will continue to post.
    Lets pray to Allah that police and other national security departments actually perform thiose duties which they are supposed to be performed in a cicilazed and Islamic society.


  • Leila Rage
    Nov 20, 2012 - 6:53PM

    @Muhammad Kamran Ali: Even animals DON’T rape.


  • sick of this nonsense
    Nov 21, 2012 - 7:08PM

    @Leila Rage:
    Rape is also found in birds.


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