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Digital media being used to blackmail rape victims

By: Sidrah Roghay

In 2010, a one-hour video showing the rape of teenage girls in Khairpur hit YouTube and it was only after the registration of a First Information Report (FIR) and intervention by the concerned parties that the video was blocked by the world’s most popular video-sharing website.

Come 2011, two more cases of the same nature surfaced in Karachi and again the digital media was exploited to widely distribute the rape videos and blackmail the poor victims.

The first case came forward in March this year from Saudabad in Malir, where a sixteen-year-old girl was raped by a group of four boys. On that fateful day, the teenager was returning home from school when the gang forced her to the home of one of the boys at gunpoint and raped her, also capturing the barbaric act on film. The gang kept calling her again, but she refused to meet them. The victim informed her family about the traumatic incident and stopped going to school. Stored on a memory card, the video was handed to the girl’s brother. An FIR (237/11) was registered at the Malir police station.

The second case occurred in Landhi in September, when two armed youngsters raped a 14-year-old girl inside the very same clinic she worked at. The boys belonged to the same area and caught the girl unaware as she was busy cleaning the clinic in the early morning, all alone. As the boys took turns to violate the helpless victim, again a video was recorded on a mobile phone. The criminals threatened to shoot her if she told anyone at home.

After the incident, the rapists used the video to blackmail the victim and asked her to meet them again. When the demand was ignored, the boys resorted to harassing the girl on her way to and from work. They would keep snatching her bag and stealing her money. The teenager was left with no alternative but to drop work and sit at home. Once all chances of a second visit were lost, the video was spread through the bluetooth feature on mobile phones and the victim’s brother and father also came across the disturbing images. The family registered an FIR (95/2011) at the Landhi police station.

Asia Munir, the in-house lawyer for War Against Rape, is currently handling the two cases from Landhi and Malir. She reveals that both the families belong to the lower-income bracket and adds that each day the court fails to announce a verdict causes further frustration.

In the Landhi case, the only brother who supported the victim is a daily-wage labourer. “The transportation cost to and from the sessions court itself was a burden on his shoulders and in the end, he was ready to accept money from the accused or have the girl married off to one of her rapists,” Munir elaborates.

“The girl simply refused,” she says. From that point on, the NGO offered to handle the cases free of cost. Munir also reveals that one of the accused was the son of a police officer and has gone into hiding. The counsel of the defendants often tries to protect the clients by claiming that the victim had given her consent.

SSP East Javed Alam Odho, while talking about the Malir case specifically, said that it is for the court to decide whether the victim had given her consent. “However, widely distributing the video and blackmailing the victim are criminal offenses in themselves”.

He reveals that while the incident took place on July 26, 2010, it was reported in March, 2011. The law prefers early reportage of rape and the later it is reported, the weaker the case becomes.

In the Khairpur case, the video was removed from YouTube after War Against Rape contacted the concerned website’s administrator. But digital media experts claim that it is technically impossible to eliminate the content from the web. “You can make it hard to find, but it is impossible to remove it because once the content is uploaded, it is connected to other websites as well and people might save it on their hard disks,” says Samee Qazi, a web developer.

Naveed Siraj, a social media expert, agrees that laws governing ethical usage of these websites are emerging, but it is still an “ongoing process” as the area is a relatively recent development on the internet. “Cyber laws exist in Pakistan, but they are weak at the moment and more needs to be done.”

Source: The News


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