Protesters hold banners with messages against sexual assault during the 16th edition of the Beirut Marathon Image Credit: AFP

Beirut - Protesters holding signs reading “I will face my rapist” lined the course of Beirut’s Marathon on Sunday to call for tougher action against sexual abusers.

The campaign in the Lebanese capital also sought to challenge perceptions in Lebanese society that often blame victims rather than attackers.

Dozens of solemn-faced campaigners, many dressed in black, took their places along the seaside course of the race.

They held up signs bearing slogans in Arabic and English that read: “Today, I will not run: I will face my rapist” and “Judge the rapist, not the victim”.

The campaign, under the hashtag #ShameOnWho, was organised by an NGO called Abaad, which says one in four women in Lebanon have been sexually assaulted. It estimates that only 38 percent of these cases are reported.

Director Ghida Anani thanked marathon organisers for cooperating with the campaign, saying the event provided an opportunity to spark debate on “the culture of blaming the victim”.

“It’s a platform where we can really address the public (on) a topic that is still considered a big taboo” in Lebanon, she said.

Protesters holding signs lined the course of Beirut's Marathon to call for tougher action against sexual abusers. Image Credit: AFP

Activists with black veils over their faces and red balloons in their hands, also held a march, carrying placards bearing accusations often directed at rape victims: “She must have provoked it” and “She must have been drinking”.

Marathon runner Maria, 16, said the campaign was “audacious”.

“It was really powerful. Women often don’t dare to speak out, but we really have to, we have to say that criminals must be punished,” she said.

Lebanon’s parliament last year scrapped a controversial law allowing rapists who marry their victims to go free, after a high-profile campaign spearheaded by Abaad.

A protester holds a banner with a message against sexual assault during the 16th edition of the Beirut Marathon in the Lebanese capital on November 11, 2018. Protesters holding signs lined the course of Beirut's Marathon to call for tougher action against sexual abusers. The campaign, under the hashtag #ShameOnWho, was organised by the NGO Abaad, which says one in four women in Lebanon have been sexually assaulted. / AFP / Abaad / Marwan TAHTAH Image Credit: AFP

The hashtag #ShameOnWho? is also being seen all around the capital, as a new street art campaign to try to change attitudes to rape in a country where victim shaming remains common.

The group behind the campaign, which launched last week, said it wanted to "shake" Lebanese society out of misconceptions about sexual violence, using street art depicting the faces of alleged rapists as described by their victims.

“There is so much blame and shaming of the victim. Our society needs to start recognising that rape, no matter what, is not justified,” said Ghida Anani, director of the campaign group Abaad.

“We need to demand more rights around sexual assault. If you don’t shake society and this reality — nothing is going to change,” she told Reuters.

The images went up on walls of buildings around Beirut alongside the hashtag and the words “Prosecute the rapist. Do not blame the victim”. Some also featured voiceboxes with oral testimony from the victims, their voices distorted to disguise their identity.

About 13 sexual assaults on women are reported every month in Lebanon, official data show, but campaigners say many more go unreported.

The country only abolished a law that let rapists escape punishment if they marry their victims last year, and women’s rights campaigners say a culture of victim-shaming persists.

In 2016 a member of the Lebanese parliament sparked an outcry when he said people needed to ask themselves “if women play an active role in pushing men to rape them”.

A spokeswoman for the Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering, a local women’s rights group, said shock tactics were needed if attitudes were to change. “This captures people’s attention and creates an important debate — we need to start talking about these issues,” said Hayat Mirshad.

 Adding “Campaigns on violence against women need to start being aggressive and shocking.”

As part of the campaign, Abaad also released a video on social media of an actress who claimed to have been raped. Many people blamed her for what she was wearing or asked if she was on drugs.

ABAAD MENA

Hundreds of rape survivors and activists participate yesterday in the Beirut Marathon, to mark the campaign, which will ends on November 25, International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women.