Sexual assault and rape are a few of the most difficult crimes to report and prosecute. Due to the evidentiary burden which is infamously difficult to prove, most sexual assault cases do not follow through to conviction. In Pakistan, social taboo and victim shaming further complicate the process of obtaining justice, leading to rape being one of the most underreported crimes in the country.

Yet slowly but surely, we are making progress. The parliament’s small amendments to the legislation pertaining to rape and honour crimes go a long way, as do the courts’ progressive interpretations. Recently, a Lahore High Court’s judgement assessing the use of non-sterile objects to collect evidence in sexual assault is a step towards rectifying the messy and often humiliating process of evidence collection in such cases.

That non-sterile objects be banned from use of evidence collection seems self-evident, yet unfortunately, this had been the custom for a long time. Doctors usually prepared swabs with non-sterile objects such as matchsticks, ice cream scoops, broomsticks and twigs and then used them to collect evidence from the victim. In some cases, large cotton plugs have been used as swabs. The use of such items can be dangerous, not to mention, humiliating for the victim. They are also not helpful, leading to contamination which can jeopardise the process of DNA analysis.

The LHC’s banning of such methods should hopefully ensure a more transparent, clean and welcoming medical response to victims of sexual assault. In a court system where DNA evidence is oftentimes only admitted as secondary evidence, it is of the utmost importance that the health departments at least practice the process with sensitivity and health standards. The social stigma of reporting rape and sexual assault is already enormous – additional hurdles such as poor medical evidence collection practices should be removed.