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The gang-rape of a woman in front of her children after her car broke down on a motorway has prompted outrage and protests in Pakistan, with anger further fuelled by police, who appeared to blame the victim for travelling alone.

Fifteen people have been arrested in connection with the gang-rape, which happened at about 1.30am by the side of a motorway in Lahore.

The woman had called police when she ran out of fuel but, as she waited for help, at least two men broke the windows of her car, dragged her and her two children out of the vehicle and attacked and raped her multiple times in front of the children. They then stole her jewellery, cash and bank cards.

Disgust around the case increased when Umar Sheikh, the lead police investigator, told media that the woman should have known better than to travel alone at night. He said no one in Pakistani society would “allow their sisters and daughters to travel alone so late” and she should have taken a safer highway and made sure she had enough fuel for the journey.

The victim is a resident of France, and Sheikh said she “mistook that Pakistani society is just as safe”.

His comments caused outrage, with many people citing them as yet another example of a culture of victim-blaming in cases of sexual violence in Pakistan, where women who report cases are often treated as criminals.

Shireen Mazari, the minister for human rights, said the investigator’s remarks were “unacceptable”, adding: “Nothing can ever rationalise the crime of rape.” Protests were planned across Pakistan on Friday and women’s rights activists called for Sheikh to resign.

The attack came just days after the kidnapping, rape and murder of a five-year-old girl in Karachi.

Imran Khan, the prime minister, said in a statement on Twitter that he was following the case closely and had asked investigators for the “arrest and sentencing of those involved in the incident as soon as possible”. He added: “Such brutality and bestiality cannot be allowed in any civilised society.”