Will we search for answers?
Filmmaker Jami has tweeted a second set of details about how he was raped 13 years ago by a media tycoon in Karachi. Media circles have been set on fire by this information as they closely identify, to many people, who the rapist is.
The question is: what happens now?
One of the most immediate effects of Jami’s tweets is that it triggered a seismic wave of pain and memory for other people who have been raped or assaulted. A sub-editor sat in my office yesterday shaking for they had not been assaulted but knew so many people who had. Jami’s tweets triggered for me memories of assault. I carried them around with me all day like some fresh hell. Other people I work with came to ask what they could do to help. They had been assaulted. They were in pain. They wanted to know what to do. In my newsroom, I said it just meant we have to do better journalism.
This much is clear: Pakistan has a rape epidemic. And it isn’t just the women…
As an editor and a journalist, I have a responsibility which has to be discharged in this unfamiliar new terrain and shifting landscape of society. The first thing I did was attempt to contact Jami through someone and offer any support in telling the story if he should choose to do. I wrote in a message that I did not want him to recount or relive the trauma.
The basic principle I was operating on was to ask the person first as consent is paramount in such stories. As we see #MeToo stories emerge, the media is confounded by the challenge of reporting them. We are, however, falling woefully short.
I respect that Jami did not respond.
When that did not work, I spoke to several lawyers and people who had been familiar with cases or knew Jami. The next challenge was to figure out how to do our job as journalists the right way.
When I wrote about rape a few months ago, I learnt a valuable lesson from women who had been working with War Against Rape. They said that often we fixate on a particular case and its details but do not address the systemic violence or inadequacies of the system.
And so, I put together nine questions to try to learn and pass on some knowledge from the experts on a situation such as Jami’s. I reproduce them below and will update this story once the answers come in. Please leave a comment below if you would like us to work on any other aspect we may have missed, and I am sure there are many.
1. If someone comes forward in Pakistan and tweets they have been raped, are the authorities legally bound to investigate even if they do not name the person? What are those authorities and under what law could they act on their own?
2. If a rape has taken place 13 years ago, what kind of evidence will be needed if at all to prosecute? Will witness testimony suffice?
3. If the person does not want to name their rapist, does not want to go to the authorities, will any action in reality take place?
4. Can the media investigate an allegation against an unnamed person accused of rape?
5. If someone closely identifies without name their alleged rapist, are they opening themselves up for defamation and by default the media as well if they cover this? What laws allow this and where are they flawed?
6. How can the media pursue this particular case now and under the given circumstances? Should it?
7. How can, given your knowledge of other such high-profile cases, the system work against the victim in Pakistan? Especially if the person they are accusing is really powerful and in the media.
8. If there are other people who have been raped but have been silent for years, is there any way they can seek justice?
9. If a person names their rapist either immediately or years later, what is supposed to be the proper due legal process and protections.
UPDATE Oct 24, 2019: We received the first of responses. Please see the new story here: Jami and rape: what are a survivor’s legal options?
Please add any advice or remarks or thoughts about this case that would set the record straight on the debates surrounding it (such as forcing Jami to name the rapist).
At SAMAA Digital, given our resources, we will make every effort to cover such cases and serve as a platform for anyone who wishes to tell their story. We are constantly trying to understand how the legal system factors in for we know that the state does not always protect the victims or those who come out in support of them.
Since Jami’s tweets surfaced, many conversations have centred on the rapist’s organisation. I do not believe that it can ignore what is happening. I hope that there will be soul-searching and the people in charge will take the right decisions on action to be taken. Silence is not an option. I wondered, what would happen if the same happened at my organisation? What would I do if I were in that position?
Silence is not an option for anyone in the media. We will never again be able to report on a subaltern rape if we can’t report on a celebrity filmmaker’s rape. That would mean that we only do journalism when the victim/survivor is unable to fend us off from asking questions. The power dynamic is abused.
For me the greatest shift I believe we are seeing is that we have a generation of young people of different orientations who will no longer put up with the abuse of the generation above them.
Jami created a crack in the facade. And he isn’t the only one. This year we have seen an explosion of people using social media to tell their stories in their own words. So many women, in particular, have tweeted how they were raped. What is the government going to do about it? What I wonder is, doesn’t the state have any mechanism to address these cases of violence?
The authorities cannot ignore what is happening just because rape involves a three-letter word we do not ever mention in public. Institutions cannot ignore people who come forward to register a complaint of rape or sexual harassment. They cannot get away any more with brushing it under the carpet.
This generation will name you and shame you. Time’s up.