When a young Pakistani woman was gang raped in a remote village, she kept silent. But then a video of the rape began circulating online and via mobile phone. As BBC Urdu’s Amber Shamsi reports, little appears to have been done to stop web users from sharing the video.
Sadia (not her real name) had thought that if she kept quiet, it might protect her from the humiliation of being known as a rape victim.
But in the days or weeks after, two versions of her ordeal began to circulate online – one lasted five minutes, the other 40 minutes.
The video showed her being raped by four men, one by one, while she pleaded for mercy. It spread rapidly through the towns and villages of Punjab.
“It was my elder brother who first told me about the video. He saw it and recognised Sadia, then came to me,” Sadia’s father says.
“She felt too ashamed to tell me because I’m her father. If her mother had been alive, I’m sure my daughter would have told her.”
They then reported the rape, and it was easy to find the alleged culprits in that small community.
‘Sharing’ the rape
It was shared largely through Bluetooth and clips have reportedly made it on to social media websites such as Facebook.
It can still be shared. Pakistan does not have the laws to stop this from happening.
Sadia lives in a typical Pakistani village, with mud homes surrounded by fields of sugarcane and small vegetable gardens.
She is 23 but she looks much younger. Since her mother died, she has been a surrogate mother to her younger siblings.
Sadia is nervous as she speaks, clasping and unclasping her hands, breaking down and re-composing herself.
She says she was on her way to the market to buy her sister’s school uniform when she was bundled into a car and threatened with a gun. She claims the four men in the car took her to a house and raped her while filming the act on a mobile phone.
“After I begged and pleaded with them, they beat me even more,” she says. “They said to me that if I don’t listen to them and do what they want, they’ll show everyone the video, put it up on the internet, that they would hurt my brothers and sister.
“I didn’t care about myself but I didn’t want my siblings’ future to be in jeopardy because of me. That’s why I didn’t tell anyone.”
She is acutely aware the video is now being watched widely.
“A lot of people are watching this video for fun, they see it as something interesting.”
Cyber crime laws
When I came face to face with the four accused men in the police station where they were being held on remand, they hung their heads to avoid our gaze. They are currently in jail and the trial is under way.
As well as being prosecuted for gang-rape and kidnap, they have also been charged with distributing pornography for which the penalty is three months in jail.
The video is still online although police say they have been trying to get it removed. As far as the gang-rape is concerned, police say that with the video, the case is strong
But this is also a story that underscores how Pakistan’s legal system has been unable to keep pace with rapid changes in society and technology.
Lawyers specialising in cyber crime say there is no specific law to force websites to take down the video, and a lack of political will and manpower means this could still be some way off.
A comprehensive cyber-crime ordinance was allowed to lapse four years ago before it could become law.
So local police and federal agents adopt a piecemeal approach when confronted with a crime like the filming and sharing of a video containing sexual violence and invoke laws pertaining to sexual harassment, defamation or criminal intimidation or basic clauses on violation of privacy gleaned from an old law called the Electronic Transactions Ordinance (ETO).
Under a new cyber-crime law (yet to be enacted by parliament), the punishment for distributing sexually explicit material will be three years – whether or not it involves violence which is dealt with under separate laws – and violation of privacy is also three years
A deputy director-general with the central Federal Investigation Agency which covers cyber crime, Shehzad Haider, says he gets about 12 to 15 cases of private videos of a sexual nature being uploaded a month – by jilted lovers and blackmailing gangs – and the numbers appear to be increasing.
“The law which was allowed to lapse was very effective because it was detailed and made the job of prosecution much easier,” says Mr Haider. “We make do with the ETO because we have no choice.”
Sadia has no choice either. She is now house-bound because of the shame of the public nature of her ordeal. She used to be a primary-school teacher and had been in further study.
“Some of my college professors visited me and encouraged me to complete my studies,” she says.
“They say I should put it behind me, but I can’t. Not until the men are punished.”
How the crime came to light: Tahir Imran Mian, Social Media editor, BBC Urdu
“I have something to share with you and I hope the BBC can help the victim.” That was the message attached to a video from a reader of the BBC Urdu Facebook page.
It is one the biggest and most followed pages in Pakistan and a huge number of people reach out to us for help. We are often sent graphic material, but I felt numb after seeing the shocking video so decided to investigate.
After a few phone calls and conversations, it dawned on me that people were watching and sharing this. I then found that many men in the area where the attack took place thought it was “fun” to share and watch the video.
There are several closed groups on Facebook where men can share images. Those who have access to tools and technology can take it further and blackmail victims. A mobile phone with a camera is cheap and so are the opportunities it provides to many who knowingly or unknowingly record their videos and then share them.
The victim often ends up being the one stigmatised.