Victim-blaming in Pakistan gang rape case sparks uproar

LAHORE • A Pakistani police chief is facing a growing backlash after he seemed to blame the victim in a gang rape case because she was driving at night without a male companion.

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

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

Mr Sheikh went on to say the woman - 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, adding: "Nothing can ever rationalise the crime of rape."

Protests were held in cities across Pakistan on Friday, and Mr Sheikh's comments sparked demands for his resignation.

"We don't want him in office," protester Shaheena Khan said at a rally in Islamabad. "We want security from the police and the government. It is their job".

Lawyer and woman's rights activist Khadija Siddiqi told AFP that Mr Sheikh's comments were part of an unfortunate and "very rampant" culture of victim-blaming in Pakistan.

Much of conservative Pakistan lives under a patriarchal code of "honour" that systematises 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 1,000 Pakistani women are murdered in honour killings each year - in which the victim, normally a woman, is killed by a relative for bringing shame on the family.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 13, 2020, with the headline 'Victim-blaming in Pakistan gang rape case sparks uproar'. Subscribe