The current influx of cases of harassment of women has raised questions on our social values and the criminal justice system. Both have failed our women – having been unable to protect them at work and public places.
Looking at the social factors, we will observe that harassment and its acceptance is deeply embedded in our male-dominated society. It only occurs when men feel they are more powerful and superior to women and when they are quite sure that there won’t be any social and legal consequences for their actions. Harassers in our society are glorified and considered to be very blunt and bold men. On the other hand, a victim is blamed for the whole episode of harassment, by majority of our society – either due to her clothing or to be present at wrong location at wrong time. In addition to this, there is very little social acceptance for speaking against a harasser. Any woman who dares to raise her voice against harassment becomes a subject of discussion in town. Family support could have made a difference. But that too proves to be non-existent due to societal pressure. Most of the women cannot discuss these events with their parents due to communication gap and fear of getting blamed for the whole ordeal – the latter mostly resulting in either stricter outdoor rules for them or quitting their education or job.
Consequently, not only do the victims go into more depression and mental trauma, but the harasser also goes unpunished. Even in a majority of those cases where a victim gets full family support, the process most often ends in compromise, primarily due to social pressure and to save their so-called family reputation.
Why is it that our society cannot make an example out of a harasser? He should be the one worried for his reputation and fearing social boycott for his misconduct. Instead, the victim and her family get this treatment. All these add up in the non-reporting of harassment to the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs). Moreover, the attitude of the society in consoling the victim needs to be changed. At the end of most such discussions, everyone will suggest that you ought to let it go and make peace with it yourself, as the harasser is a man – he has the option of tarnishing your good reputation by making false accusations.
Dissection of the criminal justice system reveals that it is not supportive and friendly to the women of our country. There is a need for gender sensitivity training for the police, which can help police officers to understand the nature of this crime and the sensitivity attached to it. This will result in more encouragement to victims to report harassment. According to an estimate, more than 90% of harassment cases go unreported – primarily due to the non-cooperative behaviour and image of the police in society. The image problem could be addressed through the inclusion of more women into the police force – who are, at present, less than 3% of the total strength. Similarly, if we are to increase the number of women who feel safe using motorcycles on roads, it would require an increase in the number of female police officials on patrol – and for that to happen, we need more induction and deputation of female traffic officers on roads.
After reporting of a crime comes the investigation phase. Although in recent years, the police have introduced many reforms to enhance the capacity of women police officers in investigating gender-based crime, still there is a lot of room available for improvement in training, especially victim handling, so that the maximum number of culprits can get convicted.
Next is the prosecution in our criminal justice system, where a lack of good communication between the prosecution and police during and after the course of an investigation is the biggest problem. It results in faulty investigations, delayed trials and a high acquittal rate. Similarly, judicial reforms are needed for speedy trials. Currently, our judicial system has lost the trust of people and adds agony and depression for an already traumatised victim with lengthy court proceedings.
Furthermore, our jails have become universities for inmates to learn how to commit a crime in a sophisticated manner, instead of getting rehabilitated. The reformative role of the jails needs to be implemented in its true essence, so that a harasser can be given the chance to re-join society as a reformed person.
Unfortunately, the dilemma of all of the above-mentioned organs of the criminal justice system – Police, Prosecution, Judiciary and Jails – is that they operate on the basis of decades-old laws and rules which were enacted by our colonial masters. These laws need to be amended for strict punishments and to cover the loopholes in the wake of changing crime dynamics and the challenges of a digital world. Recently, a few acts have been introduced by the government, but most of the women do not know about them. So, more awareness about the law and the legal rights that it gives to women should be propagated.
Harassment should be a non-compoundable offence. It is my suggestion that in all those cases where the victim does not want to report harassment due to any reason or changes her mind during legal proceedings, the state should become complainant so that a record of harassers can be maintained, and a clear-cut message could be sent in society that harassers will not go unnoticed. This might help in creating deterrence in the form of guaranteed reporting, prosecution and conviction.
Lastly, the implementation of the existing laws without any ifs and buts, and with zero discrimination, is the most important thing. Based on my professional experience, I can safely declare that even a poorly drafted law can bear you good results if implemented in true essence and indiscriminately. The need of the time is to make our society more gender inclusive – as no nation can progress socially, economically and politically without the full participation of half its population. For this, they do not need to demand anything from men. Instead, men will have to step aside and let women get what was always theirs: full rights, opportunities and dignity as humans.
The writer is a member of a law enforcement agency in Pakistan and tweets at @bull_cop