Lebanon repealed one of the longstanding laws that allow rapists to avoid criminal prosecution if they marry their victims. It was the latest in a string of countries in the region to reverse such provision under pressure from Arab women’s group. Women’s groups have agitated for years for the laws to be repealed, saying they further victimize survivors.
Abbad is a women’s rights group which is dedicated towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. They had waged a vigorous campaign. In Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, this spring, billboards with a striking message have appeared. They were showing a woman in a bloodied and torn bridal gown and a caption that read, in Arabic, “A white dress doesn’t cover up rape.” And it hung similarly defiled gowns along the city’s famous seaside promenade.
The laws were built around patriarchal attitudes that link a family’s honor directly to a woman’s chastity; the marriage option is aimed at shielding the victim’s family from “the scandal,” as one victim’s brother put it in an interview for New York Times. It’s very hard to imagine that such laws are still in effect in various parts of the world, but that’s exactly the case.
According to New York Times, Lebanon’s move follows others in the region. Jordan’s Parliament voted this month to revoke a similar law. Tunisia did the same in July, as part of a far-reaching measure to buttress laws on violence against women. Morocco repealed its marry-your-rapist law in 2014, after a widely publicized case of a teenager who killed herself after being forced to wed the man she had accused of raping her. The death of a 16-year-old girl, Amina Filali, who swallowed rat poison, prompted public outrage and resulted in repealing the law.
In Lebanon, Ms. Latifa’s family was averse to going public with her ordeal. She and her brother, Ahmad, had come from Syria as refugees. There, a middle-aged man visited the family for months and then, according to Mr. Latifa, raped his sister. She married her rapist and stayed in that marriage for three years, which is what the law requires for the accused to evade prosecution. Ms. Latifa eventually divorced the man, but he went inside and shot her dead. He has been arrested and is facing charges including murder.
Marriage loopholes in rape cases are not unique to the Arab world. The Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, still has a marry-your-rapist loophole, according to an 82-country survey by Equality Now, a women’s rights group. Until 2006, so did Uruguay, and until 1994, so did France, according to Human Rights Watch.
There is still a lot more work to do on this rape-marriage issue, according to Ghida Anani, the founder and director of ABAAD: “It’s the first step to changing the mind-set and traditions… For us it’s the start. Now the awareness and behavioral campaign will start to make women aware that it’s no longer an option: He cannot escape punishment.”
Photo Credits: Brown Political Review