A college student was gang-raped, filmed and blackmailed by three of his friends, who attacked him last week at a secluded mansion in the outskirts of the Pakistani city of Lahore, after saying he “looked almost transgender.”
News of the student’s traumatic ordeal has since gone viral, highlighting the country’s lack of a law on male rape, as well as the urgent need for the legal protection of its transgender community.
Although the survivor does not identify as trans, activists say the incident reflects the brutal nature of transphobia in the country, where trans people have been common targets of sexual assault and violence. In the student’s case, the perpetrators – two of which were his old school mates – assaulted him after saying they found him to be “effeminate,” “cute” and “almost trans.”
“It’s a general mindset that if someone is feminine, gay or trans-presenting can and should be easily targeted. It's actually a very precarious situation for people in Pakistan,” lawyer Haris Zayad told VICE World News. Zayad reported the case on social media on May 15 on behalf of the survivor and his family, and is closely working with them to provide legal advice and support.
The survivor and his family have not pursued legal action yet. Pakistani rape laws do not cover male rape or sexual assault of males, and the society stigmatizes male rape.
“There is no such thing as a male being raped in Pakistani law – it is focused on females. Under these non-gender-neutral sexual abuse laws, men are actually suffering,” said Zayad. “In most cases, male survivors or families do not pursue a case due to stigmas attached [to male sexual assault], because they do not want the survivor to be ridiculed or made fun of.”
The survivor’s family doesn’t trust the country’s criminal justice system, where rape conviction rates are less than 3 percent. The survivor has also refused to publicly disclose the names of his attackers, Zayad said.
On May 13, the 21-year-old survivor was assaulted at a mansion owned by the family of one of the attackers. The survivor and the perpetrators belong to affluent families and would occasionally meet there to hang out.
On the night of the incident, according to Zayad, one of the alleged rapists started badgering the survivor and attempted to kiss him.
“The others joined in this mad rush and they grabbed him – which led to the attack,” said Zayad. The perpetrators also filmed the attack and threatened the survivor while he was still bleeding profusely from the assault. The attackers were not intoxicated during the attack but started drinking alcohol after it. They told the survivor they would release the video of the rape if he told anyone about it.
According to Zayad, the survivor suffered multiple injuries and is heavily traumatised. He is still recovering from his physical injuries. His family intends to take him outside Pakistan to help him recover from his trauma through psychological treatment.
Due to a lack of laws for male survivors, those who do pursue legal action are forced to turn towards Pakistan’s laws criminalizing homosexuality and sodomy. “The law is vague, and if you invoke ‘sodomy’, the rape part actually evades [under this law], and the punishment for the rapist is less severe,” said Zayad.
Transphobic and homophobic violence is rampant in Pakistan, but most cases go unreported due to fears of retributions, weak reporting mechanisms, and discriminatory legal systems and law enforcement institutions.
In March, eight transgender women were shot in three brutal attacks in Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Three of the women were killed. From January of last year to March of 2022, a total of 24 transgender people were killed in transphobic attacks in the country.
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