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Rapes and the brave women who report it

Watch Outlawed in Pakistan on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.




Often it takes the courage of one woman -- and her family -- to expose the greater issue of sexual violence.

In India, it was the rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey. She was the 23-year-old student attacked Dec. 16 after boarding the bus with her fiancé (they were on their way home from watching the movie the Life of Pi). She was gang raped, assaulted with an iron bar and dumped naked on the side of the road. She died 13 days later in a Singapore hospital. 

Her name wasn't public until her father made it so.

“We want the world to know her real name,” Badri Singh Pandey, told The People, a Sunday paper in London. "My daughter didn’t do anything wrong. She died while protecting herself. I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter.”

In Somalia, it was 27-year-old Lul Ali Osman Barake, who went to prison briefly for reporting her rape. Thanks to the international outcry of her story she was released and the government forced to confront the issue of rape conducted by its forces. 

With so much news out of Pakistan, rape is not an topic that has been widely covered, and like India, Somalia and elsewhere, it is considered a taboo subject. Even those who defend survivors of sexual violence are at risk, as are sometimes the journalists who cover their stories.

Kainat Soomro is a brave teenager. When she was just 13, she accused four men of gang raping her. Speaking of a rape at all -- the admission of lost virginity outside of marriage -- could be a death sentence to some. But Soomro's family refused to carry out a so-called "honour killing." 

For four years, filmmakers Habiba Nosheen and Hilke Schellmann followed her story for a PBS Frontline film, "Outlawed in Pakistan." 

The filmmakers joined New York Times correspondent Declan Walsh for a live chat about the complex case and how it provides a window into the greater problem of Pakistan's sexual violence -- and the stigma of reporting it. 

The whole series can be found here.

Michelle Shephard is the Star's National Security correspondent and author of"Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recepient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm


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