An 18-year-old woman was enticed for a job and then gang-raped on M-4 motorway in Gojra on Monday. According to the police, the perpetrators of the crime invited the woman with evil intentions for a job in the city and when she arrived, the suspects gang-raped her in the car, dashed her on Faisalabad Interchange and fled the scene. The investigation officials have found the main culprit while a search has been underway to arrest the other alleged rapists. 

Experts opine that continuous cases of rape and sexual assaults have been creating a fearful environment for women and children who are now afraid to travel alone. Young girls and women are learning methods of self-defense to protect themselves amid rising rape cases. Many of them have stopped using public transport and avoid travelling at night. 

Analysts say that due to the negligence on the part of police and investigation agencies and the society giving undue advantage to perpetrators through victim blaming, the latter have been enjoying impunity. Instead of having a drop in the number of cases, there has been sharp rise with an overall less than 1% conviction rate. 

According to the details obtained from Police, Law, and Justice Commission of Pakistan, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Women’s Foundation, and provincial welfare agencies, there are at least 11 rape cases reported daily in Pakistan with over 22,000 rape cases reported to police in the last six years from the country. Only 77 accused have found to be convicted that forms the conviction rate to be around 0.3% and these suspects belong to those cases that are reported and whose investigation reports lie with the police. Analysts have estimated that owing to the social stigma attached to the crime and lacunae in the overall law and order system, only 41% of rape cases are reported with the police, while the rest of them being unreported have only decreased the conviction rate. 

Moreover, observers have found that out of all the reported cases, only 2,727 challans (12%) were filed in the courts while the decision was announced in 1,274 (5%) of them, with 1,192 accused getting absolved. The low conviction ratio, and subsequent high acquittal rate, has normalised the crime putting the lives of women at stake.

Given the heinous incident of Lahore motorway case, the government subsequently introduced new legislation, and announced the establishment of special courts for the fast-track rape trials. However, a year has passed but the public has not seen any significant shift in the society with regards to the elimination of this crime. 

Experts maintain that the established legislation, without an effective implementation, will just remain a piece of paper losing its validity with time. 

Various analysts have suggested that rape culture, being rampant, has been destroying the moral fabric of society and has transformed into a gargantuan task to be resolved by the relevant authorities. The lack of proper investigation by the police, and absence of stringent measures issued by the government, has been making this a convoluted issue. 

"Sadly, rape culture is predominant in Pakistan — one that blames the victims of sexual assault and frames all men as naturally violent. Many are working to try to change this discourse, but it is an uphill battle," said Nida Kirmani, a professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Another renowned women’s rights activist, Farzana Bari, emphasised on taking the cases of sexual assaults seriously. She maintains that the culprits should not be spared when the allegations are proved as that is the only way to bring justice in the society.

"If a woman says she has been sexually harassed, she must be taken seriously. At the same time, she needs to prove her allegations in the court of law. If the allegations are proved in the court, the culprit must be punished," she said.

Farzara Bari further cites the loopholes in the legal system of Pakistan that make the justice difficult to reach the common man. “Sexual violence against children and women is rampant in Pakistan. There are so many gaps in the legal framework”, she adds. 

According to the right activists, the role of relevant stakeholders has also become imperative in order to end this horrendous crime. The legislation and police shall not to be blamed alone. The role of NGOs, civil society organisations and media has remained negligible in creating a breakthrough against the crime. 

Right activists claim that the media does not keep up the pressure. Once the issue has been conveyed to the public, no one dares to follow the developments. The news vanishes from the media as soon as the public has it ears on it. 

Experts have also noticed that no regular public campaigns against the issue have been seen to raise awareness among the people, nor has any legal advocacy been highlighted by the civil society organisations. 

Analysts say that owing to the normalization of the crime, the relevant authorities have lost their interest to fight against the crime willingly.