"Today marks the tenth anniversary of the day I was raped"
I don't think there's much you can say after someone reveals a story this personal. That day, as I later found out, was also the first time she decided to acknowledge it to her friends and talk about it.
There was a look on her face that spoke both of the sadness, the memory of the incident brought back, and an immense relief to finally share the burden of her story.
"He was a friend of the family. I still see him on the streets sometimes. I never confronted him, but then again I was too busy blaming myself through most of the years. Now he's out there, as if nothing ever happened, and nobody knows what he did to me... only I do."
We have a funny way of dealing with women in Lebanon. At first glance, it would seem as if Lebanon is a beacon of gender equality in the middle-east, and it’s easy to get fooled by this image, after all women are free to dress as they please and party as long as their feet would carry them… What could be more modern and European-like, right?
However when it comes to the safety of women in Lebanon, somehow we seemed to have dropped the ball. In fact, we’ve dropped the ball for so long that we no longer seem to notice.
A few weeks ago, the country was rocked by the brutal murder of Myriam Achkar, a young woman whose resistance to a sexual assault tragically ended her life. Following the news of the discovery of her body, every media outlet in the country was on the story:
- The assailant was Syrian, should Lebanon have a stronger regulation of foreign workers ?
- The assailant was employed at the church in the vicinity of which the assault took place, should the church abstain from employing non-Christians?
I wonder how the narrative would have changed had there been a rape, and the victim had survived. I’m almost certain the story wouldn’t have made a single headline.
My certainty stems from the fact that such crimes are occurring on a daily basis, yet we never address them. Myriam Achkar’s tragedy is prime-time news because it can be spun into a story where foreigners play the role of the big bad wolf, but as soon as the story becomes the protection of women and their rights in Lebanon, we turn a blind eye, or better yet, we fight it.
We are raised in a country that draws killers and rapists as the boogey-man, television characters, concepts foreign to our daily life… Yet when men sexually harass women on the streets we see nothing wrong with it, when someone we know gets raped, we let them deal with this “shame” on their own, as if it was their own fault. Our rape victims are survivors of two crimes, the second of which is our inability to acknowledge their tragedy, bring their assailants to justice, and make our streets safe.
This failure extends even to our homes: A draft law aiming to protect women from marital rape, in addition to physical, mental and sexual abuse is fighting its way to the penal code in the Lebanese parliament and facing criticism that wishes to strip it of most of its substance, revoking a woman’s right to say “no”, and her right to safety, even at home.
In a country where tourism accounts for the bulk of the national income, perhaps all we have really is our name and reputation, but I think we hold on too tightly to a pristine image of Lebanon, sweeping under the rug anything that might tarnish its name, slowly letting it fester and plague our society. Too bad for the victims, too bad for the women…
Of all the people you come across on the street, how many do you think have a dark secret, something perhaps that only a woman with a hidden sadness in her eyes knows about?
Important note: Change can only come through mobilization. Take part in the march organized by Nasawiya this Saturday the 14th of January to pressure the Lebanese parliament to pass a law protecting women from all sorts of abuse. Share this event with your friends and help raise awareness about this injustice.
Fadi Bitar is a blogger and contributor to LBCblogs. You can contact him on Twitter here or visit his blog.