Lebanese Activists Protest 'Stone Age' Rape Law With Haunting Public Art Piece

The longstanding law lets rapists go free if they marry their victim.

Lebanese activists are keeping the pressure on members of parliament as the time nears to repeal a widely criticized rape law that commutes the sentences of rapists who marry their victims.

Along Beirut’s coastline Saturday, 31 paper wedding dresses hung by nooses created by Lebanese sculptor Mireille Honeïn were installed as part of the 16-day long campaign against Lebanon’s Article 522.

MPs could vote on May 15 to repeal the law.

“This Article 522 is from the stone age. It’s not acceptable for people to talk about it anymore,” Jean Oghassabian, Lebanon’s minister for women’s affairs, told Agence France Presse. “How is it reasonable for a woman to be raped and then sold into a prison?”

Alia Awada, from the nongovernmental organization Abaad, which promotes equality for women, explained the symbolism of the 31 dresses to the AFP.

“There are 31 days in a month and every single day, a woman may be raped and forced to marry her rapist,” Awada said.

In a February interview with the Huffington Post, Awada said that when an unmarried girl is raped and her case is taken to court, the judge typically suggests the girl marry her rapist as a way of preserving the family’s honor.

“All three sides – the judge, the girl’s family and her rapist – must agree to the marriage,” Awada said.

“How is it reasonable for a woman to be raped and then sold into a prison?””

- Jean Oghassabian, Lebanon’s minister for women’s affairs

Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the law violates women and girls a second time by trapping them into life with their rapist.

“Protecting honor should be about ensuring that attackers are punished and promoting social attitudes that support survivors of sexual violence instead of stigmatizing them,” Begum said.

Human Rights Watch notes that a growing number of countries that have in recent years repealed laws similar to Lebanon’s or otherwise reformed laws relating to rape and marriage. France and Peru repealed such laws in the 1990s, while Costa Rica and Uruguay did so in the past decade, in 2007 and 2006 respectively.

Last December, a parliamentary committee announced an agreement to repeal the law. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has previously said he “applauded” the repeal of Article 522.

“I applaud the Administration and Justice Committee’s cancelation of Article 522 that exempts a rapist from penalties if he marries his victim. We now await the completion of this civilized step for the upcoming legislative session.” (Translated from the tweet above.)

Clarification: Language has been amended to clarify that repealed rape laws in France and Peru were related to conjugal rape and not to requirements that women marry their rapists.

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