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Sexual violence awareness campaigns stressed

KARACHI: Speakers at a meeting on Tuesday stressed that awareness campaigns be carried out about sexual violence against women so that the female discriminatory societal mindset be changed and victims felt safe in approaching the criminal judicial system to get justice.

Speaking at the meeting organised to launch three sexual violence-related studies by the War Against Rape, they demanded that special trainings be given to the police, prosecutors and junior judicial officials to sensitise them to victims, most of whom avoided approaching the system, fearing embarrassment and agony involved in the process.

Presenting the recommendations of the study titled ‘Sexual violence and law in Pakistan’, Maliha Lari said currently there were legal provisions that specifically addressed and prescribed punishment for object rape, incest, digital rape, necrophilia or marital rape.

She said the report was an attempt to initiate a thought process in people registering cases, prosecutors working to provide legal counsel or aid, and judges trying cases on how to prudently apply the existing laws. She said the average age of rape survivors in Karachi had fallen from 18 years to 13 years from 2008 to mid-2011.

The report also carries data regarding the medico-legal examinations conducted and the number of FIRs registered, which showed a big gap between 2004 and 2011. The MLEs conducted in 2004 were 425 and the number of FIRs registered stood at 389, while the next year these numbers were 357 and 160; in 2006 these were 362 and 173; in 2007 they were 275 and 85, while in 2008 the figures were 335 and 90. A year later these were 229 and 68; in 2010 the figures stood at 266 and 80 while in 2011 the figures were 283 and 103, respectively.

In her presentation on ‘The criminal justice system and rape – an attitudinal study of the public sector’s response to rape in Karachi’, Ayesha Khan, who conducted the study, said DNA tests must be done at state expense to confirm rape allegations and improve the conviction rate; and out of court settlements for rape be made punishable both for the lawyers and judges brokering such settlements.

Other recommendations were: a witness protection system; ethical guidelines for the questioning of witnesses and survivors and in-camera court proceedings to protect the identity and safety of survivors; bail of the accused be conditional and in case of extending threats to survivors, the bail be revoked; MLOs should always conduct complete examination to improve evidence.

Special measures be taken in case of incest to ensure that the survivor was not forced to go back to live with the accused (in case of fathers, brothers etc) in the event that he is given the benefit of the doubt and acquitted.

In her presentation on ‘With an end in sight – incest in Pakistan: a legal and socio-cultural analysis’, Sanaa Rasheed recommended that communities be strengthened to talk about and play an active role in identifying, reporting on behalf of and providing support to incest victims.

She said bails be granted with utmost caution and not without restraining orders for the accused or taking the victim into protective custody. She said incest trial should be concluded at the earliest, without compromising due process. Shelters be set up where victims could be settled temporary.

Sarah Zaman, Zia Awan, Faisal Siddiqui, Zahid Farooq and others also spoke at the meeting conducted by Fareeda Memon.

Sindh youth affairs minister Faisal Subzwari also attended the meeting briefly, but left it without making a speech.