BEIRUT — A dozen Lebanese women, dressed as brides in white wedding dresses stained with fake blood and bandages, gathered Tuesday outside government buildings in Lebanon’s capital to protest a law that allows a rapist to get away with his crime if he marries the survivor.
The law, in place since the late 1940s in Lebanon, is currently being discussed in parliament after a lawmaker called for it to be repealed.
Standing before a banner that reads: “White won’t cover rape,” the activists are taking advantage of a reinvigorated Lebanese political life following parliament’s election of a president after a two-and-half-year paralysis. They are calling on lawmakers who meet Wednesday to discuss the law to repeal it altogether.
“If they don’t put themselves in our shoes and feel what we feel, nothing will change,” said Hayam Baker, one of the protesters, dressed in a white gown and leaning on crutches. Baker said she was sexually harassed by a male nurse several years ago as she lay in a hospital bed recovering from a life-threatening injury.
“Imagine if he had raped me?” Baker said. “If my children ask how did I meet their father, what do I say? `I married the person who raped me!’ “
After years of campaigning against articles dealing with violence against women, activists said they are optimistic they may be able to change them.
The law states that rapists are punishable by up to seven years. If the survivor is a person with a special need, physical or mental, the penalty is increased. Article 522 then added that if the violator marries the survivor, criminal prosecution is suspended.
“We reject this violation of women regardless of their age, background, environment, whether they have special needs or the circumstances of the rape,” said Ghida Anani, head of Abaad, a local NGO campaigning against the law.
Some supporters of the law argue that the marriage will salvage the honor of the woman and her family. During parliament discussions, some lawmakers proposed amending it and leaving the marriage option as a choice for families, Anani said.
“This is like saying the victim is a victim twice, a daily victim because she has to share her life with a person that violated her, and is hence raped every day,” she said.