Ask a rape victim about her experiences and she is likely to tell you that her initial assault was merely the first and foremost in a parade of abuses: social ostracism, skepticism and disbelief from friends and family, disregard at the hands of authority figures. If her attacker is known to her—as is often the case—she might find that she must continue to share space with him (in class, at work, at church) and that she is expected to publicly “keep the peace” with the person who violated her.
If she lives in Lebanon, she may even be forced to marry her attacker.
Article 522 of the Lebanese penal code allows a rapist to escape punishment for his crime by marrying his victim—whether she likes it or not—as long as the judge presiding over the case, the rapist, and the survivor’s family all agree to the marriage.
A proposal to repeal Article 522 will go before parliament on May 15, and politicians are cautiously optimistic: just this February, a parliamentary committee approved a proposal to scrap the law. But activists are determined to keep the pressure on Lebanese MPs to follow through—and, thanks to sculptor Mireille Honeïn, they have feminists across the world standing behind them.
On Saturday, Honeïn installed a grim and daring work of art along Beirut’s coastline: 31 paper wedding dresses—one for every day of the month—hanging from nooses. “There are 31 days in a month and every single day, a woman may be raped and forced to marry her rapist,” said Alia Awada, a representative of the Lebanese gender-equality nonprofit organization Abaad.
Honeïn’s art installation follows in the footsteps of other protests against Article 522 in recent months, among them a procession of women who arrived at a December demonstration wearing “wedding gowns” made of bandages doused in fake blood.
Whatever the method, the message seems clear: this brutal and archaic law is a relic of the past—and it deserves to remain there.