Sexual Harassment in Lebanon Under Spotlight

Protesters chant placards during a demonstration to protest sexual harassment and bullying and demanding rights, in front of the government house in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Sexual harassment - everyone's ears tremble when they hear about this subject and people are overly sensitive about it. Yet despite the horrific stories, it is often the victim who ends up getting blamed for the act!  Police stations and prisons are crowded with those victims while the corners are filled with families of victims who fear scandals.

The perpetrator may be the neighbor or the shop owner, the school teacher or a family member – people who are supposed to be “safe” and the act may take place in spaces that are meant to give the individual a feeling of comfort.

There are multiple crises in Lebanon which are worsening day after day. Major political, financial, economic and living crises impose a heavy burden on citizens. However, in the midst of these crises, despite their horror, we are still exhausted by the high statistics of the phenomenon of sexual harassment and the stories of the victims.

Solitude, melancholy and suicide 

“The numbers of sexual harassment cases in Lebanon are countless and women are most often the victims,” psychologist and psychotherapist Dr. Marie Chahine said in an interview with Majalla, “Harassment is any act, word or behavior that includes sexual suggestions, whether verbal or physical, that may occur at home and in public places, from the street to the workplace, to shops and others.”

Chahine describes the harasser as a person with low self-confidence who loves control. “He suffers from sexual repression and does not talk about the sexual problems he is experiencing or about his desires. Rather, he expresses them in the wrong way. So, he resorts to the act of harassment.”

Dr. Chahine sheds light on the living conditions that have accumulated pressure and anxiety for everyone, stressing that they "deeply affect this phenomenon."

She added, “The harasser turns the person into an object of his pleasure as he loses control. He does not have a feeling of remorse, but a sense of domination and a cold feeling without any control."

The psychologist narrates a number of examples of the rampant phenomenon of harassment, from the employer who takes advantage of the country’s conditions and threatens the victim with loss of salary, to the people who, before this economic crisis, were paying money for sexual favors. She said, “Today, things are different.”

She continued: "Even parents have become unable to control children, especially young people, who watch pornographic films on the Internet, which develops a feeling of sexual desire in them that turns into harassment."

Chahine regrets that “the problem of sexual harassment is not a priority for the state today as other life matters are greater,” warning that “the impact of harassment on the victim is frightening, as it begins with distrust of self and others, introversion to the point of isolation, melancholy and guilt”.

“This is in addition to the physical effects of stomach and back pain, addiction to drugs, alcohol and drugs which often ends in suicide.”

Chahine, meanwhile, emphasized the role of the relevant associations in encouraging the disclosure of the pain caused by this phenomenon.

Protesters chant placards during a demonstration to protest sexual harassment and bullying and demanding rights, in front of the government house in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

The Lebanese legislation in the Penal Code was clear, however.

Civil activist and lawyer Hassan Adel Bazzi told Majalla that "the Lebanese legislation in the Penal Code was clear and explicit, as it imposed more than 25 to 35 legal articles that dealt with rape, seduction and kidnapping with the intent of a sexual motive and exposure to public morals."

He said: "The penalty for rape is up to 5 years, and if it is committed against a minor under the age of 15, it is 7 years. If a minor's illness is exploited, the penalty is tightened with hard labor of no less than 5 years."

He added: "Seduction, indecent assault, and violating the sanctity of women's places, for example, such as in clubs and swimming pools are punished by Lebanese law with 6-month imprisonment in addition to fines.”

He noted that "the Lebanese legislature also punished exposure to public morals, foreplay or publishing a sexual image with one month to a year imprisonment."

He continued: “There is no doubt that women, especially minors, are protected by the Lebanese Penal Code, but there are some observations, such as the crime of rape in particular, whose punishment was considered to be 5 years. It should be tightened and raised to at least 10 years like in a large number of countries.”

“But the judge cannot rule contrary to the text, so he rules with the punishment available to him. It is time to develop this law to constitute a real and serious deterrent to the rapist."

He concluded: "We believe in freedom, but in another place it is necessary to pay attention to some side issues such as education and follow-up of children, as a large part of crimes are caused by deprivation and direct and indirect excitement.

“The criminal may be a victim of his instinct or a victim of an improper social life," he said, calling for organizing the society in a way that preserves freedom and gives importance to public morals, warning that “slopes lead to crime.”

“Caught A Harasser” Campaign

Lebanese journalist and activist in women's issues, Maryam Yaghi, told Majalla the details of the campaign, "Caught A Harasser", and said that "the idea was implemented last year”. The campaign is an online platform that tracks abusive comments, and even pages that send harassment and sexual comments. The idea was originally a joint plan between the journalist and the late feminist Nadine Jouni.

“It was planned to launch the campaign through the live broadcast service on her Facebook page, but we were surprised that it was banned from broadcasting. We postponed the matter, and she unfortunately died. I came back after a while and launched the campaign, which I considered honest.”

She added, “The idea of the campaign is to put an end to the harassers, especially with the spread of this phenomenon electronically and the absence of deterrents or controls.”

The journalist also said that there are a lot of girls who are harassed and remain silent, some ignore it, and there is a group that responds and reprimands the harasser, but this is not enough.

“As long as there are no strict laws that protect against harassment t will continue - we must put an end to this phenomenon.

“The harasser is not affected by ignoring, reprimanding or banning. Perhaps his image in front of the public is the private part that he has not taken into account when he allows himself to harass women. The most he can do when his crime is ignored is to move to a new victim because his matter has not yet been revealed.”

She continued, "Before the campaign was launched, many women shared with me the harassment cases they were subjected to, based on their follow-up to me and their respect for my courage in confrontation.

“When the campaign was launched, it quickly gained wide attention, and within one week there were 1,300 people in the group. Some considered the initiative an initial tool to confront the cyber harasser, and I received daily many complaints about online harassment, most of them of a sexual nature.”

Yaghi revealed that “When the campaign was launched, a number of harassers were forced to close their pages, after we exposed their immoral behavior in front of their followers. The harasser’s exposure to public shaming makes him blunder and some go too far and respond with justifications inspired by the outdated customs that hold the girl guilty because of her dress, thoughts, voice, and so on. These standards, just like harassment itself, must be put to an end.”

She asserted that “The aim of the initiative was to encourage girls to confront the harasser instead of fleeing, which the society calls for. It is no longer acceptable to whip the victim, blame her, or ask her to suffice with "blocking", for example, while letting the harasser move from victim to victim, spreading his moral transgressions”.

Yaghi regrets that she stopped following the campaign, saying: “The matter really caused psychological pressure, due to the severity of the reality and the many abuses, in addition to the rudeness of the harassers and the threats that were reaching the group's mail. My goal was to “pinch an ear” to the harassers, and I think the message got through.”

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