New Anti-Rape Crisis Centre Brings Hope for Sexual Abuse Survivors in Pakistan

WomenWomen and experts attend a seminar on rape and justice organized by Blue Veins in Peshawar, Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS and experts attend the launch of an anti-rape crisis center in Peshawar. Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS
Women and experts attend a seminar on rape and justice organized by Blue Veins in Peshawar, Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS
  • by Ashfaq Yusufzai (peshawar, pakistan)
  • Inter Press Service

Currently, it takes years to bring the perpetrators of rape to justice due to a lack of evidence and more often than not, the accused get acquitted.

“In most of the cases, the evidence in sexual assault cases is lost because people wash the victims’ genital areas from where samples are taken for semen analysis to trace the real culprit. Subsequently, the accused are acquitted by courts,” Prof. Hakim Khan Afridi, head of the Forensic Sciences Department at the Khyber Medical College, told IPS.

Afridi added that it was also important to preserve the survivor's clothes to ensure that the perpetrators of rape and sodomy are brought to justice.

Advocate Mehwish Muhib Kakakhel told IPS that the accused are often acquitted due to reasons such as faulty first information reports (FIRs), insufficient evidence, credibility issues with witnesses, problems in the investigation process, absence of forensic labs and crisis centers in provinces and cities, legal procedural errors, compromises or settlements outside the legal system, potential pressure or threats, societal and cultural factors influencing perceptions, effective legal defences creating reasonable doubt, among others.

Improving the legal system, enhancing investigative procedures, and addressing societal attitudes are essential for fair and effective adjudication, she said.

“Rape cases in Pakistan may face delays in decisions due to factors like meticulous forensic processes, adherence to legal procedures, court backlogs, investigation complexities, challenges in witness cooperation, the need for thorough legal representation, potential appeals, and consideration of the psychological impact on survivors,” she said.

Kakakhel, who supports rape survivors with legal resources, said that ongoing efforts aim to streamline legal processes, but reforms, improved investigations, and increased awareness are crucial for minimizing delays within Pakistan's legal framework.

However, lawyer Muhammad Ismail is hopeful that things will get better with the setting up of the first-ever Anti-Rape Crisis Centre (ARCC) at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad, which will help the survivors.

Earlier in January, Pakistan, in collaboration with the UK government and UNFPA, set up the ARCC to extend the expeditious and effective redressal mechanism for survivors of sexual violence. It seeks to provide well-rounded medical, legal, and social services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

Ismail says it is a big development towards ensuring safety, protection, and bringing to justice those committing sexual assault.

“It will help the victims' medically as well as legally. Samples for semen analysis and the provision of legal assistance will be done on time and enough evidence will lead to convictions,” he says.

Addressing the inaugural ceremony, the UK’s High Commissioner, Jane Marriott, said that the crisis cell was a significant milestone in addressing gender-based violence in Pakistan.

“This new facility will ensure that gender-based violence survivors are provided with quicker response services under one roof. The UK is proud to partner with Pakistan in advancing such important innovations for tackling violence," Marriott said.

The United Nations Population Fund Representative, Dr. Luay Shabaneh, said, “Rape is an ugly crime that causes lifelong pain and psychological trauma to those who face it. By all means, rape is a crisis that needs a collective response. We should start with prevention and awareness raising but also ensure a comprehensive response to help those in need.

Women-rights campaigners appreciate the centre, too.

An eight-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a 45-year-old man in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of the four provinces in Pakistan but the culprit is scot-free because of a lack of evidence, Bibi Nusrat, a women's rights activist, told IPS.

“Initially, the accused confessed to police but in court, he denied any wrongdoing because the sample had been collected from the victim in an incorrect way. She has taken a bath soon after being raped,” she said.

The ARCC is a blessing for the people who faced issues in assessing justice.

Dr. Muhammad Jawad at PIMS, where the ARCC is located, says they are establishing branches throughout the country.

“The victims would contact the centre in their respective provinces, where their medical examinations and tests would be done free of charge,” he says. The rape victims would also get free legal assistance because, in most cases, the hiring of lawyers is a big issue due to a lack of money.

The centre will offer free legal assistance to ensure that the forensic examination and tests are done correctly and lawyers can argue their cases in such a way that the accused are penalized.

The centre will also help the government to have complete data about rape cases in the country, as presently there is no authentic data about such cases taking place in the country, he said.

Nasira Shah, a Mardan-based women's rights activist, says that the government is required to scale up public awareness regarding rape cases and subsequent medical and legal matters.

“Many women don’t want to report sexual assault cases to the police because of social repercussions. Rape victims are looked down upon by people in the community,” she said.

Qamar Naseem of the NGO Blue Veins Organization says they have been holding training sessions in various cities to spread awareness about rape cases and how to provide them with legal services.

“The people are responsive as there is massive anger against rape and people want that the accused are convicted and get punished,” Naseem said.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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