Content warning: This piece discusses sexual assault.
7500 miles from our native Ann Arbor campus lies the Pakistani city of Karachi, a metropolis renowned for its linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity. Just 750 miles from Karachi exists Lahore, the next largest Pakistani city notable for its social liberalism, high level of educational quality and literary works. Despite these positive qualities, for years, sexual assault has not recieved the enforcement nor the attention it requires in these Pakistani cities –– until now.
On Friday, Sept. 4, a 5-year-old girl named Marwah was kidnapped from a local shop, sexually assaulted, hit on the head and then set alight, ultimately left in a heap of garbage found two days later. In a similarly unfortunate incident, this past Wednesday, Sept. 9, a woman, roughly in her 30s, was dragged from her vehicle which was stopped on the highway, held at gunpoint, attacked, robbed and sexually assaulted multiple times in front of her two young children. The two separate incidents have sparked immense protesting across Pakistan, focusing attention on the conspicuous, toxic rape culture and years of government inaction.
In the wake of these recent sexual assaults, the Lahore police chief, Muhammad Umar Sheikh, added fuel to the fire across the greater community ––asking why the woman had not checked whether she had enough gas before embarking on her journey and why she had been traveling so late at night without an adult male accompanying her. While already enraged, Pakistanis now rage, utilizing Sheikh’s words as an example of what is widely considered characteristic of Pakistani officials’ negligence toward sexual assault and a deeply embedded masculinity within Pakistani culture.
The protests in Pakistan along with the allegations leveled by the Twitter account “Assaulters at UMich” this past summer prompt the question –– what is the link between masculinity and rape culture across two seemingly unconnected parts of the globe?
Rape culture is perpetuated immensely by gender norms which men and women continue to validate, from objectifying women to viewing them as sexual objects, all justified through phrases like “boys will be boys” in both municipal areas.
However, more subtle microaggressions, like victim-blaming such as in the recent cases in Pakistan, are at most to blame for minimizing the real impacts of sexual assault. Devalidating the survivor’s story in spite of overwhelming evidence instead of condemning the actions of the perpetrator has become commonplace. This must be reversed in order to begin addressing the notion of justice for survivors.
While it is very important to acknowledge and address sexual assault against male survivors, the onus is primarily on men, who most directly wield the benefits of the patriarchy and thus have most contributed to rape culture, to confront their own values, beliefs and behaviors, and address those of other men, particularly when it comes to sexual attitudes. University policies must focus on educating men as the primary method to reducing trends of sexual assault on campuses. When we analyze events internationally, we must be willing to use the same lens to understand, acknowledge and rectify similar patterns locally.