Uproar after ‘victim blaming’ by police chief in Pakistan gang rape case

Women supporters of Pakistani Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) carry banners as they march during a protest against an alleged gang rape of a woman, in Lahore on September 11, 2020. (AFP)

A Pakistani police chief faced a growing backlash on Friday after he seemed to blame the victim of an alleged gang rape because she was driving at night without a male companion.

The controversy started after a woman was allegedly assaulted and raped by multiple men in front of her two children when her car ran out of fuel outside the city late on Wednesday.

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Lahore police chief Umar Sheikh repeatedly chided the victim for driving without a man at night while speaking to media about the incident, adding that no one in Pakistani society would “allow their sisters and daughters to travel alone so late.”

Sheikh went on to say the victim -- a resident of France -- probably “mistook that Pakistani society is just as safe” as her home country.

Human rights minister Shireen Mazari said his remarks were unacceptable. “Nothing can ever rationalise the crime of rape,” she added.

Read more: Pakistan detains 15 people after alleged gang rape of woman on highway

Lawyer and woman’s rights activist Khadija Siddiqi told AFP that Sheikh’s comments were part of an unfortunate and “very rampant” culture of victim blaming in Pakistan.

Protests were planned in cities across Pakistan on Friday, and Sheikh’s comments sparked demands for his resignation.

“We are angry, we demand his removal and we demand his apology,” said Nighat Dad, a women’s rights activist and one of the organizers of an annual women’s rights march in Lahore.

Much of conservative Pakistan lives under a patriarchal code of “honor” that systematizes the oppression of women by preventing them from, for example, choosing their own husband or working outside the home.

Activists have denounced pervasive, sometimes deadly violence by men -- usually male relatives -- against women who break those taboos.

Around a thousand Pakistani women are murdered in honor killings each year -- in which the victim, normally a woman, is killed by a relative for bringing shame on the family.

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Last Update: Friday, 11 September 2020 KSA 15:14 - GMT 12:14
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