NEW YORK (TrustLaw)—In Pakistan, as in many countries, sexual violence is shrouded in stigma and secrecy that discourage victims from reporting attacks and seeking justice from the legal system.
This is particularly true in crimes of incest committed by family members against adolescent girls, who often are not believed or who are forced into silence by relatives determined to preserve the family honour.
In their landmark report, “A Struggle for Justice: Incest Victims in Pakistan,” researchers from international human rights group Equality Now, and Pakistan’s women’s rights organisations Nasreen Welfare Trust Legal Aid Services and War Against Rape, Lahore, describe the major obstacles that keep young, female victims of incest from reporting attacks and prosecuting the perpetrators.
Barriers to justice documented in the report include:
* Social stigma: Families often discourage young women from reporting the crime and try to cover up it up to avoid shame. Officials may accuse the victim of lying or having provoked the crime
* Police attitudes: Law enforcement may treat a young woman with disbelief and call her character into question. It is not uncommon for police to encourage girls to handle the problem within the family as a preferable alternative to bringing legal charges. They deter registration of cases by warning that a long court trial might “stain” the family’s honour. Police may not be aware of rape laws
* Prosecutorial misconduct: Prosecutors may be subject to bribes by wealthy defendants to drop the case, or to mishandle the case, such as not informing the complainant of a bail hearing or suppressing summonses
* Lengthy trials: Repeated adjournments of cases, often requested by the defence attorney, cause emotional, physical and financial hardships for victims and their families that may deter them from pursuing the case
* Insensitivity in cross-examinations: Defense lawyers may seek to cast aspersions on the young victim’s motivation, calling her character, dress and behavior into question often without any objection from the prosecution
* Untrained medico-legal officers: Female medico-legal officers to conduct physical examinations of rape victims are rare due to social attitudes toward such work. Officers of either gender may bring their own biases into their reports. Some consider girls who wear Western clothing as having “loose morals” or conclude that lack of bruises or other obvious evidence of violence indicate the intercourse was consensual
* Lack of special arrangements for victims: Pakistan does not routinely provide for victims to testify out of sight of the perpetrator. Complainants and defendants typically share the same court waiting areas, often for lengthy periods of time
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)