A video of a TV talk show host recently went viral in which he was comparing women with ‘toffees. He said that if you left an unwrapped candy on the road for an hour, nobody would eat it because it would have been attacked by viruses, bacteria, germs, flies, mosquitoes, etc. He made this comparison in response to the backlash that Prime Minister Imran Khan is facing after his recent interview where he blamed women for sexual violence. When journalist Jonathan Swan asked PM Khan about sexual violence in Pakistan and if he thought that what women wear has any effect and if that’s part of this temptation, PM replied: “If a woman is wearing very few clothes it will have an impact on the man unless they are robots. It’s common sense.”
It is not common sense to blame the victim for a sexual crime; it is not common sense to blame women for being raped instead of blaming the real culprit, i.e. the rapist; it is not common sense to tell women what to wear; it is not common sense that the prime minister of a country would issue a rape apology instead of responding to the question by simply saying that no, women’s clothes have nothing to do with rapes or sexual crimes. Period. When the prime minister tries to equate women’s clothes, it is not just irresponsible but also has far-reaching consequences. When people question victims of sexual assault about what they were wearing, it is an affront to all the survivors, dead and alive. It was also quite sad to see three women MNAs defending PM’s rape apology. We understand that it is their job to defend their party and leadership but it would have been better if they had just remained quiet if they could not condemn this statement.
PM Khan’s comments are not just triggering for all victims and survivors of sexual abuse but are downright insulting. What was a six-month old baby wearing when they were raped, what was little Zainab wearing when she was raped, what was the boy in the madrassa wearing that ‘tempted’ Mufti Aziz, what were dead women wearing in their graves when someone dug out their bodies to rape them? Rape is not about lust. It is about power, humiliation, control. Rape is a violent crime, which has nothing to do with the way anyone dresses. In the United States, a Federal Commission on Crime of Violence study found that most convicted rapists could not remember what their victims were wearing. This is just a myth perpetuated by many, including the TV talk show host who thinks women are somehow candies or PM Khan who thinks women’s clothes somehow tempt men unless those men are ‘robots’ who do not act after being ‘tempted’.
Rape apology in any form is unacceptable. We hope that the PM will realise his mistake and not repeat it because such comments do not make women feel safe, at all.