Child rights and protection NGO Sahil reported over 10 children are sexually abused every single day. The UN conducted a study proving 5000 women are killed by honor killing each year, and Aga Khan University confirmed in a study that over 40 per cent of all married women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced intimate partner violence. Madadgar Helpline states over 93 per cent of women have faced sexual assault.
With these statistics in mind, we know that sexual violence is a serious problem in Pakistan. The harrowing murder of Zainab Ansari, the stabbing of Khadija, and women like Meesha Shafi coming forward has forced us to reckon with the reality of sexual violence in our society.
It’s possible to assume nearly every individual in this country knows or is affected by a sexual and/or domestic abuser. But what exactly is a sexual predator? What allows an individual so much power over another person that they abuse them physically, emotionally and/or sexually and nobody says a thing?
Source: HRCP Pakistan
Predatory behaviour occurs when there is a possibility for dominance and gratification through control. The means to exert this dominance can be sexual, physical, emotional, social, financial or psychological but the common denominator is always the control predators use to feed their hunger for those things.
Power dynamics enable predators to abuse, whether it’s a boss harassing his female employee or an older relative abusing a child.
How does one identify a sexual predator in a relationship? Looking at power dynamics helps. In the majority of child abuse cases, the abuser is older than the child, which places the responsibility with the adult. An abuser will use the age difference to gain the victim’s trust, cover his tracks and exercise fear, which guarantees the silence of the victim.
But does this mean every relationship is a predatory and abusive one? No. But even consensual relationships can be abusive. In most cases, the victims already know the abuser (a neighbour, a friend of the family, a member of household staff or even a family member) who has cultivated a relationship of trust not just with the victim but the victim’s support system.
The social standing of the abuser makes it much more difficult to suspect him and believe the victim. The culture of silence permeating society becomes yet another barrier to exposing the predator and seeking justice.
It is interesting to note that the word predator comes from praedor — to plunder, which Michelle Dean defines as ‘to take what you have already conquered, by right, like a pirate taking a ship’s treasure.’ A predator is entitled to take more from the victim until he is satisfied.
In cases of grooming, the abuser cements domination by giving the victim presents, attention, money, and intimate secrets. These demonstrations of affection lull everyone close to the victim into a false sense of security, assuring them the abuser wants the best for their future lamb to the slaughter. The victim feels indebted to the abuser and possesses a smaller margin to refuse coerced sexual acts or can even give her silence after a violent assault.
The predator will disrespect the boundaries of the victim and degrade her in many ways but will only harm her as much as he can get away with. This humiliation can cause low self-esteem in the victims, which makes them believe they “deserve” abuse and fail to reach out for help.
The sense of dependency an abuser inculcates in his victim is why survivors do not come forward with their trauma for years. Many still blame themselves.
On their part, predators very rarely have a sense of remorse because they believe all their actions are justified. The Stockholm Syndrome-like circumstances of abuse demonstrate time and again how even the victim feels the abuser’s actions were justifiable, so it’s very unlikely that a predator themselves will confess to their abuse.
Because we expect abusers to be loners, mentally deranged, and overtly creepy, we aren’t able to see when a predator is a charming, friendly and even popular person in our midst.
Pakistan’s most notorious killer Javed Iqbal who raped and murdered 100 boys was educated and hailed from a wealthy family. Becoming pen pals with boys aged six to sixteen, he lured them in with gifts and raped them in a villa he used for his steel recasting business. It was only after he sexually assaulted the son of an upper-class community elder that strong measures were taken to remove him from their town.
Despite this, Iqbal set up a video game shop, where he threw a 100 rupee note on the floor and watched the boy who picked it up. Then, he announced his money had been stolen and searched everyone. The thief would be caught and taken to a room, where he was raped. At times, the money was given back to the boy as “a gesture of goodwill.”
He even married the older sister of a victim to make sure he didn’t lose his dominance over the boy. Similarly, Zainab’s murderer was a neighbor known in the neighborhood for reciting naats and even attended her funeral.
We would prefer these monsters to be visible to us. But the predator is often someone we know, who hides in plain sight for everyone to see. Our familiarity with him makes it difficult to condemn him.
So with all these cloaks and daggers, it’s nearly impossible to detect a predator. But as a community we can create a much safer environment.
Our primary focus should be to de-stigmatise survivors of abuse and provide them with communal affection and professional counsel to deal with their trauma. When silent survivors see that they will be trusted and cared for, far more predators amongst us will likely be exposed.
Abusers flourish in our midst because of the culture of silence and shame. If we remedy that we can move towards better recognising and divesting abusers of their power.
Source: HRCP Pakistan