The word ‘rape’ makes us picture a rather gruesome scenario; a dark alley, a bunch of intimidating men and a helpless victim. While it is true that many of the rape cases do in fact take place in such scenarios, there is another dimension that often goes unnoticed when the issue of rape is brought into debate. This second scenario replaces the dark alley with a comfortable room, the bunch of intimidating men with just one, familiar man and well, the helpless victim with an even more helpless victim. Marital rape is often not even considered as ‘rape’ as a result of which, despite the fact that it is strongly present in Pakistan, not a single case of marital rape has been reported formally in the country.

By definition, “a man is said to commit rape if he has sexual intercourse with a woman under circumstances falling under any of the five following descriptions

(i) Against her will.

(ii) without her consent

(iii) with her consent, when the consent has been obtained by putting her in fear of death or of hurt,

(iv) with her consent, when the man knows that he is not married to her and that the consent is given because she believes that the man is another person to whom she is or believes herself to be married; or

(v) With or without her consent when she is under sixteen years of age.”

This definition, which comes from the penal code of our country itself, makes it crystal clear that without a woman’s consent, intercourse is rape no matter what the situation. Sadly, however, society does not allow for marital rape to be highlighted and continues hiding this dark secret.

The foremost problem that is present in the case of marital rape is the fact that the victim may not even be aware of the fact that she is being raped. Since society conveniently chooses to refuse accepting the presence of such a vice, victims, at times, don’t even know what name they are to give to their suffering. If a woman does bring up such a topic, she is hushed by family and friends; such things are not to be spoken of. What goes on behind the closed doors of a married couple’s home is meant to stay there.

If a victim does try seeking help, it is not uncommon for members of her family to pressurize her into silence; ‘honor’ comes above all in a Pakistani household. It is up to the guardians of the family-the men- to preserve the honor of the family by ensuring that such horrendous acts never become public. A woman raising her voice to get her rights suggests that the men of the household do not have adequate control over their women which can be a source of great humiliation for the man of the family.

Then there is also the issue that a victim of marital rape may choose not to admit the fact that she is being raped by her husband at all. Since we are, from a young age, taught to maintain a façade to show the world how perfect our lives are, we ourselves choose to fabricate the truth. Another problem that arises here is the fact that even if a woman does want to raise her voice over this issue, proving marital rape in court can often be close to impossible. As a result of this, most women choose to spare themselves the humiliation of accepting publicly that they are constantly raped by the very person who is supposed to ‘protect’ them from the evils of society.

In Pakistan, the case of child marriages is not unheard of. Despite the fact that the law prohibits girls younger than 16 years of age from getting married, children as young as 8 are often married off to much older men. Owing to the weak legislation and the lack of adequate implementation of the existing laws, child marriages take place all over the country. Linking this with the earlier definition of rape, we can easily identify the fact that child marriages lead to marital rape not only because of the fact that mutual consent isn’t involved but also because of the fact that the girl is a minor. Since these young girls grow up in these circumstances, they hardly even realize that their rights are being violated.

The patriarchal nature of the society instills a sense of superiority in men from a very young age; young boys are constantly reminded of how they are to ‘protect’ their sisters while young girls are told to submit to these gender roles. In the process of ‘protecting’ women, men identify the fragility that society associates with women as a result of which exploiting them becomes an extremely easy task. A man will never admit to the fact that he is, in fact, raping his wife simply because the idea of taking into account the woman’s will in this situation does not exist. Since men grow up with the illusion that they know what’s best for their women, a woman’s opinion in any matter loses its value.  

Perhaps, someday, the world will be closer to an ideal society than it is today and the issue of gender inequality will cease to exist thus taking down issues such as marital rape with it. For now, however, we conveniently choose to ignore this problem that continues to fester in our society; it is easier to delude ourselves into believing that a problem doesn’t exist than it is to confront the problem and look for solutions.

The writer is a finance student who enjoys travelling and spends a lot of her time writing about about social issues. Follow her on Twitter