Published on The Daily Femme – Friday, April 29, 2011
Contributed by Annamarya
In 2002, Mukhtar Mai was gang-raped. The assault, which came on orders of a village council, was to serve as punishment for her brother’s crime. He was accused of having an affair with a woman from a rival clan. He offended their honor. Her rape was their settlement.
Defying the heartbreaking tradition of fearful silence among rape victims in Pakistan, Mai filed a criminal case against 14 men she said were involved in the assault. Later that year, six were convicted and sentenced to death by a local anti-terrorism court. In 2005, the Lahore High court overturned the conviction of five men and lessened one sentence to life in prison. And, just last Thursday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court rejected Mai’s appeals against the acquittals, upholding the Lahore High Court’s decision.
This week, Mai will continue to fight. The human rights activist and founder of the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization, which advocates education and support for Pakistani women and girls, plans to a review petition challenging the Supreme Court’s decision.
Sadly and disturbingly, this is a situation not unique to Mukhtar Mai or the women of Pakistan. While the situation and details differ case to case, this unsettling reality whereby the victim of rape is further abused and the attacker free to repeat offend can be found to exist in a variety of geographical locations. Just one example: Here in the United States, a Washington woman who reported a rape in 2008 was fined $500 for “false reporting” after pleading guilty to the offense and agreeing to enter a treatment program. Detectives on the case initially believed her but due to perceived inconsistencies in her story and doubts expressed by people who knew her, they determined she was lying. As it turns out, she wasn’t. Authorities are launching a new investigation into her case three years later after strong evidence was found linking a suspected serial rapist, who was recently arrested in Colorado, to the attack. While the state has since apologized and refunded her money, nothing can wash away the reality that, because of faulty police work and insensitivity, subsequent rapes may have occurred.
It takes such an insurmountable amount of courage to report rape in the first place that Mai’s fears that the Supreme Court’s decision will cause apprehension among other rape victims in speaking out are not unfounded. After all, according to the human rights activist, out of the estimated 1,200 Pakistani women who filed rape charges in 2010, only six–six–received justice. To know that justice doesn’t always prevail, particularly in a culture known for punishing women through mutilation, sexual assault and violence, as Mai asserts, it would feel impossible to say a word, to report violence. But hopefully Mai’s unwavering pursuit can serve as inspiration for sexual assault victims. Hopefully her bravery will serve as a catalyst for victims to push aside fears of reproach, shame and further attacks and speak up.
And, hopefully some day, we will no longer continue to victimize the victims.