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The death penalty doesn’t solve Pakistan’s rampant rape problem, it only shifts the blame

The death penalty doesn’t solve Pakistan’s rampant rape problem, it only shifts the blame

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The recent incidents of rape have rightfully captured the nation’s attention, with citizens calling for the immediate public hanging of the perpetrators behind the incidents. The intention behind this may certainly be positive, with citizens wishing justice to be served and future incidents to be deterred. However, despite this intention, institutionalizing the death penalty is only a method of passing the blame of rape onto individuals rather than acknowledging the systemic nature of the problem. Furthermore, it is imperative that Pakistanis recognize that public executions will be both ineffective in preventing rape and a cause for other problems down the road.

It is incredibly simple to, as comedian Shehzad Ghias put it, condemn the rapists in the recent incident as “4 monsters in the dark”. Make no mistake, there is no denying that the individuals who raped the women were monsters who deserve a very just punishment, but it is equally important to recognize that they were the product of a system which normalizes rape often even among the most progressive households. 

It is a chilling realization, and one that Pakistanis are naturally uncomfortable to admit – the idea that their words and their actions had a role in something as brutal as rape. But there is no denying it. 

Normalizing rape and equating it to a victory when saying things like “Bro, I raped you in this game” suggests that it is an act to be proud of. Equally problematic is the slut-shaming of women – suggesting that women wearing a certain type of clothing were “asking for it”. Subtle harassment in the form of catcalling and staring also contributes to this rape culture, encouraging women to feel uncomfortable in their own skin. All of these seemingly small things, along with the objectification of women as “bachis” – a trophy to be won – add up to a culture in which rape is normalized and trivialized.

But when a violent and horrific incident such as this happens, Pakistanis are quick to demand the capital punishment immediately. 

Why? 

Because it immediately allows them to absolve themselves of blame and place it squarely on the “4 monsters in the dark”. It allows them to act as if they have done their part by calling for justice and encourages them to believe that they have nothing more to do in order to bring about an end to rape – a phenomenon that is known as moral licensing. Then, when the hanging is done and “justice” is served, they can continue their lives as normal, cracking rape jokes and slut-shaming women as they see fit, having gained the moral license to do so. 

This isn’t even restricted to a certain type of Pakistanis. Almost all households, even oftentimes the most liberal ones, find themselves unwittingly contributing to rape culture simply because of how prevalent it is in this society. This culture can only be shattered when enough people recognize their contribution to it and make an active effort to change.

But, there is another problem with the death penalty. Not only does it allow this rape culture to go unnoticed and uncondemned, it also may not be as effective as we hope to believe. 

According to various studies, the vast majority of rapists know their victim on a personal level and are often even related to them on a familial level. Only a minority of rape cases occur between complete strangers. The institution of the death penalty has the undeniable potential to disincentivize victims to report incidents of rape. It will place greater pressure on victims from families and friends to keep the incident private and not involve the relevant authorities. In fact, this may lead to even more violent behavior against victims in an effort to prevent reporting and accountability.

Moreover, there is also the simple fact that there remains no credible evidence that the death penalty is more effective than long imprisonment in deterring incidents of violence. While there can be a reasonable argument favoring the deterrent nature of the death penalty, the fact that social scientists have not yet come to an agreement on its effectiveness is quite damning. 

Capital punishment, especially when conducted publicly, may also lead to the growth of a dangerous bloodlust in society. A brutal public hanging in which an individual is choked to death does not sound like the kind of justice the modern man should be propagating. Rather, it sounds more like a way to bring out and showcase the most violent, carnal and animalistic tendencies of man – tendencies that the modern man should have locked away in favor of justice and rationality. A public execution has the terrifying plausibility of normalizing violence, especially in a country which already deals with the plague of extrajudicial murders. 

In conclusion, the capital punishment cannot be regarded as a solution to rape. Not only does it enshroud the actual problem and cause of rape, but it is also both ineffective in bringing about justice and problematic in and of itself. The true solution lies in dismantling the rape culture that has pervaded for far too long in this country, investing in sex education in the youth, and continuing to encourage women to speak up about the problems they face in their daily lives. 

This article was submitted to Team PG by Sarmad Nasarullah

Also read: It’s time we talk about sex education in Pakistan