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September 29, 2017 4:54 pm EST

How journalists helped change Jordan’s ‘marry the rapist’ law

Women activists protest in front Jordan's parliament in Amman on Tuesday, August 1, 2017 with banners calling on legislators to repeal a provision that allows a rapist to escape punishment if he marries his victim.

(AP Photo/Reem Saad)

For years in Jordan, it was both conventional wisdom and the law: better for a rape victim to marry her rapist – she’s damaged goods, after all, and will bring shame and dishonour to her family since no one else will marry her.

It was perhaps a step up from honour killing, the rarely-talked-about practice of family members murdering female relatives who had been sexually “interfered with” in an attempt to restore the family’s “honour.”

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Article 308 of Jordan’s Penal Code permitted pardoning rapists if they married their victims and stayed with them for at least three years, provided the victim was between 15 and 18 years old. Proponents of the provision argued it helped “protect the honour” of rape victims.

Due in no small part to the courageous reporting of Jordanian journalist Remaz Mussa, the Jordanian government finally voted to repeal Article 308 in August. The 26-year-old blogger used his training from Journalists for Human Rights on data-assisted reporting to link honour killings and Article 308, and to hold the government to account.

At a JHR workshop, Mussa learned the basics of using data to develop human rights stories. The honour killings story had largely been avoided by other media outlets in Jordan, and it was difficult to dig up data to back up the terrible accounts Mussa was hearing from families and NGOs.

He began searching court records for data, reading the decisions in hundreds of honour killing and rape cases, and developing a series of infographics showing how authorities had dealt with them since 1995.

Mussa’s reports caused a sensation given they laid bare the dreadful choice faced by Jordanian rape victims – either marry their rapists to defend their family’s honour, or risk being slain by family members.

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Jordanians, including the late King Hussein’s sister, were horrified by Mussa’s revelations. Princess Basma urged the media to keep up the pressure and push for a public debate about honour killings and Article 308.

Remaz’s stories, widely circulated on social media and cited in outlets that included Human Rights Watch, helped trigger debate in the Jordanian Parliament. JHR’s team in Jordan followed up with online forums and radio shows that kept attention on the issue and kept the debate alive. The result? As of August 1 2017, rapists can no longer get around prosecution by marrying their victims.

What’s next for the courageous Remaz? He’s setting his sights on Jordan’s gender gap, using his JHR data reporting know-how to investigate the lack of women in leadership in Jordanian politics and business.

Lee-Anne Goodman is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

This post is a result of a partnership between Globalnews.ca and Journalists for Human Rights and is sponsored by:   

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