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World June 6, 2018

Vanity Fair ad takes '#MeToo' campaign to victims of religious violence

By Elise Harris

Credit: Abel Halasz/Shutterstock.

Rome, Italy (CNA)—A new ad in the Italian edition of Vanity Fair magazine has given the global #MeToo movement another dimension, shining a spotlight on women who have suffered persecution, rape and violence due to their faith.

Three of these women – Rebecca Bitrus, a Christian woman from Nigeria; Dalal, a Yazidi woman from Iraq, and Sr. Meena, a nun from India – are featured in the ad, sharing just a glimpse of horrors they have endured.

“They raped me, they kept me as a prisoner for two years, they killed one of my sons and they sold me as a slave.” These are the words of Rebecca, who in the ad holds a sign bearing the famous #MeToo hashtag.

“At 17 years old I was kidnapped and sold as a sexual slave to nine different men in nine months. ISIS still has my mother and my sister as prisoners.” This is what happened to 21-year-old Dalal, who is pictured holding a sign that says #NotJustYou.

“They raped me and beat me, they forced me to walk naked for five kilometers while the crowd continued to hit me.” This is the story of Sr. Meena, an Indian nun raped by Hindu extremists, who is shown holding a sign saying #StopIndifference.

Sponsored by the international pontifical aid organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the ad was published June 6 in the weekly Italian edition of Vanity Fair magazine, which is one of the most successful women's magazines in Italy and which has been heavily involved in covering the #MeToo movement.

In comments to CNA June 5, Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN Italy, said the goal of the ad is to raise awareness about “the sufferings of women persecuted for their faith.”

“We have thousands and thousands of women who are raped, tortured and forced to marry only in the name of faith,” he said, noting that until recently, there was not a true awareness of the atrocities these women have faced.

Monteduro praised the efforts of the many women who have spoken out about sexual violence through the “#MeToo” movement, which was born after the New York Times in October 2017 published an investigative report on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who this week pled “ not guilty” to charges of rape and other criminal sexual acts.

After the report ran in the New York Times, other celebrities and women throughout the world spoke up and began to share their own stories of sexual assault on social media, using the now world famous hashtag #MeToo.

“It's good, it's wonderful to create the awareness for actresses and women in the Western world who are in any way victims of violence,” Monteduro said, but stressed that at the same time, “all over the world there are women who are suffering the same, but maybe more aggressive violence in the name of faith.”

The ad, which consists of an open letter to several actresses – specifically Asia Argento, Meryl Streep, Sharon Stone and Uma Thurman – who have spoken out as part of the #MeToo initiative, begins saying that their efforts have helped to raise awareness about sexual violence in western nations.

“Your faces, known by everyone, have been associated with the denunciation of a practice that seriously damages women, their sexuality and their dignity,” the ad says, noting that ACN for more than 70 years has sought to help persecuted Christians throughout the world, including many women who have suffered rape and sexual harassment.

“The faces of these women are invisible,” it says, and, introducing Rebecca, Dalal and Sr. Meena, notes that there are thousands of women like them who are both “persecuted and outraged without receiving any solidarity or visibility on social media.”

These women “need you,” the ad says, and asks the celebrities who have already spoken out on the #MeToo movement to join in condemning “the intolerable hypocrisy of those who are outraged only by what happens in the yard of their own home and who are stingy in their thoughts, words and help for those who suffer far away due to the silence of so many.”

“The solidarity of famous actresses such as yourselves would break the indifference.”