BEIRUT: Earlier this month, ABAAD launched the #ShameOnWho campaign which aims at reshaping “society’s skewed perception of rape-victim shaming" while calling for severe penalties against the rapist in Lebanon.
This opened the door for a sizable debate between two sets of ideologies, those who in some cases blame the victim in part, and those who blame the rapist entirely.
The campaign reached the farthest corners of the country, generating conversations around rape among people of diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and age. Expectedly. the Lebanese American University’s campus was yet another locale for debating opposing views.
“The Daily Question,” an Instagram page created by Abo Hashem Moussawi a year ago to generate conversations and offer students the opportunity to voice their opinions on various challenging topics by asking them three questions per week, quizzed students about ABAAD’s initiative on the issue. The page went around the LAU Beirut campus asking students who’s to blame when it comes to rape.
Although most of the answers bluntly and unswervingly blamed the incident on the rapist, others faulted that women based on her attire or behavior.
“Although I consider opinions that blame the victim as illogical ones, it is to no doubt important to see that they still exist,” Hiba Chehab, an LAU student told Annahar. “Exposing the existence of such ideologies is the first step towards fighting them and ignoring their presence will not make them disappear.”
These contrarian answers on blaming women became the “news” itself on social media and Twitter where many condemned these answers as showing how backward LAU students are, in a classic example of spinning the news without a factual basis.
“I was shocked by some answers but, this does not mean that they represent LAU students as a whole as many tweets suggested,” said Lynn Jbeily, an LAU student
The story does not end here. A few days after this incident, The Daily Question returned to LAU with another controversial question, this time about a women’s virginity and whether a person holds the belief that they would only marry a woman if she is a virgin.
While the majority once again were against such a viewpoint, Moussawi, the founder of the now popular Instagram page points out that 10 percent of the 120 students who answered had “unacceptable answers,” which he said objectified women and degraded them to merely physical objects.
“Although I do not accept some of the answers and I do consider them irrational, I cannot stop anyone from answering. I am not here to censor anyone,” Moussawi told Annahar.
Yet, the topic grew way beyond it’s a campus-wide debate. This time, Twitter was not the only forum for questioning LAU students’ social awareness, but Beirut.com, a media outlet focused on delivering “fun” news, joined the fray, framed the news, and created a video collage of the 10 percent “unacceptable answers” and by implication suggested that the video represented LAU student’s overall ideology.
The outlet left behind the other answers, which made up 90 percent of the feedback and subsequently distorted the image of LAU students by painting them in a negative light.
As of press time, Beirut.com did not answer a formal request from Annahar for a clarification or explanation of its publicly-aired video montage. However several hours after publication. Beirut.com's Executive Editor Lama Hajj clarified to Annahar Annahar correspondent Sally Farhat her publication's aim.
The verbatim note is as follows:
"We did not at any point allege that this was the thinking of all LAU students, and the video was clearly intended to focus on the problematic and shocking comments that were made - though they were only a portion of the answers. We also encourage everyone to be more concerned with the fact that thinking like this exists as opposed to being caught up about the reputation of a facility or the country." - - Best, Lama Hajj
What the note fails to address is the actual text lead-in for the video.
"The (LAU Instagram) page 'struck' again yesterday by asking students: would you marry a girl if she was not a virgin. In response, some people got very creative with how they chose to describe girls."
The selective video montage was then rolled, Annahar as always will let the reader decide their viewpoint on all of this, Hajj in an informal preface in her note to correspondent Farhat said that: "Hi Sally, I saw your article and found it to be quite misleading honestly."
So read on and decide who is misleading whom.
Abdullah Malaeb, President of LAU’s student council said that Beirut.com’s news piece was severely misleading and best described as “fake news.”
“Attributing this mindset to the university has been probably intentionally done,” Malaeb said. “I’m sorry to tell them that their news is erroneous: this is not the culture of LAU nor a reflection the values we are taught here.”
Students were left devastated after the video was published.
“For their B-roll, Beirut.com used some old footage without mentioning that it is old. This old footage showed a one-day link between The Daily Question and LAU’s Instagram page, which happened months ago,” said Yara Issa, an LAU student. “This helped in further twisting the topic to what might serve the publication’s intentions and proved that the target is the institution as a whole and its student body.”
Rawad Taha, a media student at LAU, pointed out that “The coverage of Beirut.com is very unethical showing one side to the story only,” adding, “Out of the 120 opinions shared, they only chose the worst negative answers and portrayed it as a stereotype of LAU students.”
“We do not limit what our students are allowed to do or otherwise we would consider ourselves limiting their freedom,” said Nada Torbey, Director of Public Relations at LAU. “However, we did not expect incorrect coverage by a media outlet. Beirut.com mirrored a false image of LAU’s values that stand strong in support of women’s issues. It left behind the positive answers and only covered the few negative ones.” Noting that LAU was one of the first in the region to establish a women’s institute and women’s rights is one of the major fights the university is undertaking.
On the schools behalf, and as part of its stated mandate to fight for social justice and act for equality and women empowerment, LAU sent out an email to all students reminding them of its code of conduct that “has zero tolerance to sexual harassment and assault.” According to Torbey, the email represents the stand of LAU regarding the subject and its disagreement with the answers that were included in the video shared by the publication and all over social media.
“In many instances, LAUers have demonstrated a strong moral compass and understanding of social justice and human rights, in line with our Student Code of Conduct which expressly forbids any form of rape, sexual assault, or harassment, among others,” the email stated.
“However, there were some isolated reactions that revealed some shocking and uninformed attitudes towards rape. In several instances, these isolated reactions were unacceptable cases of ‘victim blaming’.”
Building on that, LAU took the opportunity to share once again its code of conduct with its students and shed light on specific ethical and moral standards it works by, which cover “the values of truthfulness, human dignity, gender equality, inclusion, and respect.”
The university will also be planning and executing workshops that will bring onto the table these false ideologies that do not solely exist in LAU but, are found everywhere and are built by society.
“As part of our role, we will make sure to raise debates and challenge these ideologies,” Torbey added. Nonetheless, we acknowledge their existence and we will work on changing them.”
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