This research is about sexual harassment in Lebanon, a social topic that many women, men, and children might have faced in the past or are facing right now. For as long as we can remember, this issue has been considered taboo and people often avoid talking about it for it has to do with reputation, dignity and honor, which can be topics considered private or not open for discussion in cultures and religions, especially those within the country of Lebanon. Nevertheless, sexual harassment is a crime of varying degrees, leads to pain for those who experience it and it shouldn’t be something hidden under layers of fear and shame. In this research, we will search for information and talk to experts, organizations and the public in Mount Lebanon, to get more educated about this silenced issue in order to also raise awareness among ourselves and our children. This topic is of a social theme for it discusses a social topic.
A rise in violence against women is noticed when external stresses occur. In Lebanon, with all the anxiety surrounding people in the country, caused by pandemic combined with a severe economic crisis, citizens are suffering acutely from an increase in gender-based violence. Whether it’s in households, public places, or workspaces, stakeholders are inequipped to deal with the growing number of gender-based cases.
Nowadays, it’s obvious that women are suffering from a severe harsh problem which can also be referred to as gender-based violence. What is happening is bad, especially for the Lebanese women who are facing troubles because of the social dimension which was caused by Covid-19. In fact, all the Lebanese nation is deteriorating, and the employers, government services and legal entities are not ready to deal with the rising number of gender-based violence. Violence against women is understood as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women. Wherever you go you will witness this cruel treatment that most of the Lebanese women are facing whether in homes or in public places such as roads, parks, and beaches.
Based on The International Labor Organization (ILO), sexual harassment is “a sex-based behavior that is unwelcome and offensive to its recipient.” And it exists in 2 forms: the first is related to job benefits and the second is based on intimidation of the victim. There are 3 different noticed sexual harassment behaviors: physical, verbal and non-verbal sexual harassment (American University of Beirut 2021). Sexual harassment is a kind of gender-based violence that can occur between individuals of the same sex and the opposite sex. Sexual harassment is occurring in many places even in countries with zero tolerance policies and harsh penalties for criminals (Farhat 2022).
In the workplace, very few laws are set to protect victims. However, after years of lobbying and activism, a law was set, though it is far from perfect. Lebanon passed a law called Law 205 making sexual harassment a crime and protecting the Lebanese employees from gender-based violence. This law punishes offenders, the higher the position of the offender the harsher the punishment is. If the victims are minors or have special needs, the penalty is heavier. This also includes 4 years of prison (American University of Beirut 2021).
The law, however, lacks clear compliant or reporting mechanisms. Without a strong law, however, criminals will continue to abuse the victims (Farhat 2022). Furthermore, it doesn’t provide any assistance or additional information to employers in the implementation of the new Anti-Sexual harassment law in Lebanese workplaces. So, policymakers and employers must clearly state the policy’s purpose, which is to prevent sexual harassment. Also, a definition of sexual harassment should be clearly stated, that can happen between parties of the same and opposite sex (American University of Beirut 2021).
Moreover, if the offender is a manager who abuses his rights and if the victim is a minor, Law 205 provides harsh penalties such as heavy fines and long stays in prison. Also, employers must enforce some rules to make sure that the victims are protected and safe and the employer cannot apply harsh sanctions to the victim. It should be noted that the politicians and businesses should apply several rules that include: preventing sexual harassment and protecting the victims (Farhat 2022).
Some employers sexually harass their employees and there is no sexual harassment policy to protect these victims. Time passed but women were not protected and nothing changed. Although new Bill 205 is not perfect, it does provide safer jobs for women and other unprotected people. Sexual harassment takes place anywhere, even in the workplace (ibid.).
To sum up, harassment and gender-based violence are abusive ways of treating others. Victims of sexual harassment often suffer emotional and psychological harm including stress, depression and anxiety. Sexual harassment is against the law and it can happen to anyone, at any time, so its important for the government to enforce harsh rules in order to prevent such problem (ibid.).
Social support has been widely studied as a factor that minimizes the effects on stress and that improves health. The lack of social support can lead to isolation alienation and loneliness. In this case, in order to reduce stress and anxiety, social networks can play an important role in times of stress. Having a strong social support provides you with comfort and poor social support can lead to depression, anxiety, tension, psychological problems and even suicide. However, the social support has not been studied in detail. Women who adhere to gender norms are victims to males. In fact, a lack of social support for women can lead to gender inequality more broadly in society. Gender inequality has a profound effect on mental health worldwide. For example, mothers who follow traditional norms are more interested in shame and stigma which may cause embarrassment. Its obvious that the pain, abuse, inequality and injustice associated with sexual violence can evoke strong feelings of anger for women. Similarly, women are subjected to sexual harassment in their workplaces (Anwar, Österman, and Björkqvist 2022).
How do the Lebanese view sexual harassment and can the Lebanese Law actually protect the victims of it?
We conducted a total of 8 interviews in this qualitative research study. Oral history interviews were conducted with experts, a psychologist, a lawyer and people from the public.
These interviews were used to sense the reactions, and understand better the situation of sexual harrassment from those who experience it, gauging the intensity of the information ourselves, and then using our primary source data to come to conclusions for answering our research question.
As a part of this process, and in accordance with ethical protocols, the interviewers Reem Aridi and Lara Aridi informed interviewees about the basic protocols of the interview and upon agreement of the interviewee, asked participants to sign consent sheets. These are attached in Annex I. By these protocols, the privacy and confidentiality of interviewees have been respected in the course of the research.
After weeks of conducting interviews with a variety of individuals and reading articles, whether they are legal or related to the general topic of sexual harassment, we have came to many conclusions and ideas that actually summarize the reality of sexual harassment in Lebanon, how people view it here, and how it is connected to the laws in the Lebanese constitution.
What is sexual harassment? We first asked our interviewees this question to establish a shared foundation of our discussions. The following answer is a combination of the answers from Patrick, the Psychologist; Saja, an important member of the well-known hardworking organization in Lebanon, ABAAD; and Noah, a graphic design student at MUBS.
According to Saja, before we can actually define what sexual harassment is we have to understand that sexual violence is divided into 3 main parts: sexual exploitation and abuse, gender-based violence, and sexual harassment. If a case is reported for an incident that happened in an organization or agency that has to do with human social issues, then it goes under the title of sexual exploitation and abuse. Gender based violence happens between people of the same level of power and authority. Sexual harassment occurs more in the workplace.
This is how ABAAD classifies the reports and cases of harassment: sexual harassment can be verbal, written, or physical. The danger of such an event, however, vary according to the type. Physical sexual harassment lies at the end of the spectrum as the most dangerous form of harrassment, as mentioned to us by Patrick. As Noah told us during our interview, this form of harrassment is characterized as proceeding to convince someone to engage in sexual acts after being rejected the first time.
“The effects of sexual harassment vary between a victim and another, for our reaction to such trauma is based on our childhood, psychological history, level of education…” , Saja told us when asked about the consequences of such act. She added that we can actually classify the effects to three types:
- – Social Effects that include isolation, hardships to build relationships with others, inflicting of the pain on others like the victim becoming an abuser themselves.
- – Psychological Effects: including depression, suicide, mood disorders, eating disorders, anger issues, self-esteem issues, and severe trust issues.
- – Financial effects such as loosing jobs or a career.
According to studies, the literature review, and our interviews, women, especially kids, are more prone to being sexually abused. As women, unfortunately, we belong to the vulnerable groups of society. Women are not protected by the law and are always being blamed, a cycle that reinforces further silencing and self-censure whenever rights are taken away or freedom threatened. When it comes to the male victims of abuse, however, men typically prefer not opening up because they’ll be shamed and yelled at: “ man up, you definitely wanted it!” or “ You’re a strong man, you should’ve stopped them from doing this to you!”
Hence, for the most part these harrassments are not only an issue of gender, but also an issue of injustice and lack of compassion and mercy among human beings in societies.
In addition to that, Patrick shed light on some other reasons onto why victims choose to not open up about their experience with sexual abuse. He told us:
“Men who silently accept abuse are the sons of abusive violent mothers. Women who silently accept abuse, are the same women who are taught to stay silent when their fathers and brothers are beating them up”.
All of this seems to relate back to one’s childhood. Were they loved as children? Were they taught to be fighters? Were they treated decently? Or were they abused? These are questions to consider for those who abuse others.
What of those victims who chose to seek help, where can they go? Usually, organizations in Lebanon are more than willing to help victims of abuse. From our interview with ABAAD, we were told the steps that are taken after they receive a report of sexual harassment. If the case was sexual harassment or gender-based violence it is usually referred to WGSS and the case management sector, which usually receives more cases about women and children than men. Then, the specialists in this sector discuss the case with the victims, talk about their thoughts, make an action plan, and provide the person with safety, privacy, and psychological support and legal help, depending on what the victim decides on. However, if it was a case of sexual exploitation, the specialists will listen to feedbacks, investigate properly, take decisions and provide the survivors with mental and financial support. Saja insists,
“they were able to pull out many victims of their traumatic life situation, yet, in some rare cases, they fail to protect the victim from the continuous abuse, for stopping such an act isn’t always under the organization or the victim’s control. Sometimes it goes with the environment the victim is surrounded by.”
Finally, here are some of the things that the interviewees said about sexual harassment. We note that there was a diversity in the interviewees, youth, middle-aged people, and people with different educational levels.
“Sometimes, it’s because of the women herself. When she wears very revealing clothes or even she asks for it”. This was painful to hear from another woman as we know that these could be concluded from societal messages. Nada represents many typical women in our society so from comments like this we the authors feel a fear rushes through our bodies thinking about this, because if women choose to stand against other women we will never be able to get our rights.
This is what Noah had to say about their experience with sexual harassment that they experienced once when they were young:
“When it happened I wasn’t aware that it could be that damaging. I spoke up about it but I didn’t get the support I deserve. So it stayed there deep in my head as an experience until now when I’m older I realize how big of an issue that was and how uncomfortable I felt.”
This is truly sad. Noah wasn’t being listened to forced them to suppress the whole trauma to be able to move past it. After Noah’s comment, we wonder how many times victims have to be silenced or blamed. How long will it take humans to treat one another well?
Another example of sexual abuse and exploitation is mentioned in Taymour’s interview when speaking about a woman he knows. Taymour said that the woman’s boss doesn’t allow her to have breaks because she refuses to give him what he wants. Because the woman is in need of the work, she faces sexual harassment on daily basis in her workplace. Two of the males we interviewed had also faced sexual harassment during their lives. One of them was harassed by a student and the other by his female friend, which shows that men get harassed too. It leaves a permanent scar.
To answer the second part of our question, we interviewed a lawyer that says there is the Lebanese Law 293 that supports the victim. Corruption, however, eats all the insides of the Lebanese government and it is for this reason that this law, unfortunately, lacks proper implementation. Saja pointed out, however, that the Cyber Crime Bureau in Lebanon is only sector not corrupted. This sector works on cyber bullying and harassment cases, always ending up catching the harasser and punishing them (definitely if the criminal is moving in the Lebanese regions). We should not forget that until as late as August 2017 the Article 522, the “ Marry your rapist” law, was still applicable in Lebanon. Only on December 2020 did the Lebanese system set up a law against the rapists and offenders of sexual harassment. This is Law 205, as previously mentioned. The late arrival of this law really portrays how early and irresponsible the Lebanese government is consistently toward women and victims of sexual harrassment and assault.
Discussion and Conclusion:
Even though the results are pretty well explained in the above passage through the words of our interviewees, a summarized version of how our data answers our research question will be provided below.
It is common sense to know that sexual harassment is an awful crime, yet the perspectives of the public in Mount Lebanon varied between one individual and another. Women and men of older generations tended to throw a bit of blame on the victims while the youth were able to be fair and objective enough to support the victims in all aspects. Moreover, interviewees who were more educated were able to explain better and more elaborately how offenders should never be slightly defended, let alone get away with their toxic behaviors. On the other hand, people who are less educated were observed in our results to be seen standing against women in cases of harassment toward them. When it comes to laws, clearly the law in Lebanon, especially these days, is absent because of the economic crisis and a corrupted government that citizens suffer from. As a result, most rapists and offenders tend to get away with their crimes as most of these guilty people are the same people in power, meaning that they are the corrupted government itself. This also helped to answer our research question with a very simple statement: The Lebanese Law 205 doesn’t protect or support victims of sexual harassment sufficiently enough.
In conclusion, awareness should be raised among the public. People must know about this topic. They have to hear stories and sense the pain of others. Ignorance pushes people into saying unacceptable irrational opinions. This is why knowledge and awareness should be spread. Most importantly, laws should be applied. The absence of a sergeant will encourage the criminals to keep on their harmful acts. The more carelessness, the more corruption, the more mess.
This shall stop. Humans have to be treated like humans, not less.
- personal interview by Reem Aridi with Noah. Wednesday, June 15, 2022. Location: Zoom meeting.
- personal interview by Reem Aridi with Nada. Wednesday,June 8, 2022. Location: Beissour- Mount Lebanon.
- personal interview by Reem Aridi and Lara Aridi with Saja About Zeyd. Friday, July 29, 2022. Location: Zoom meeting.
- Personal interview by Lara Aridi with Firas Azzam. July 10, 2022. Location: Zoom meeting.
- personal interview by Lara Aridi with Taymour Makarem. June 15, 2022. Location: Zoom meeting.
- personal interview by Lara Aridi with an anonymous lawyer. July 1, 2022. Location: Zoom meeting.
- personal interview by Reem Aridi with Patrick Samaan. June 1, 2022. Location: Zoom meeting.
American University of Beirut. 2021. “Lebanon’s Anti-Sexual Harassment Law no:205 Passes. What now?” Accessed 17 May 2022. Nov 17 2021. Available at: https://www.aub.edu.lb/cibl/news/Pages/LebanonAntiSexualHarassmentLawNo205PassesNowWhat.aspx.
Anwar, F., Österman, K., and Björkqvist, K. 2022. “Sexual Harassment and psychological wellbeing of the victims”. March 25,2022. Accessed 17 May 2022. Available at: https://www.ejmi.org/10.14744/ejmi.2022.73988/.
Farhat, S. 2022. “Sexual Harassment in Lebanon: A crime that goes unnoticed”. France24. January 20 2022. Accessed 17 May 2022. Available at: https://amp.france24.com/en/middle-east/20220120-sexual-harassment-in-lebanon-a-crime-that-goes-unnoticed.
Annex I: History Dialogues Informed Consent and Deed of Gift Form
The History Dialogue Project is sponsored by the Global History Lab at Princeton University. Its purpose is to teach international learners the skills necessary to undertake their own history projects.
You are being asked to participate in an interview for Reem and Lara’s oral history project. Reem and Lara are Global History Lab students. You will be asked about sexual harassment in Lebanon.
The interview will be recorded and potentially transcribed for use in Reem and Lara’s research project.
The interview will take no more than 30 minutes. There are no risks to participation; however, you may withdraw from the interview at any time or place restrictions on the use of the interview, such as requesting anonymity or sealing certain parts or the entirety of the interview for a period of time.
Your signature indicates that the purpose of the project and the use of the recordings have
been explained to you and that you have agreed to participate in the oral history interview.
It further indicates that you give, convey, and assign your interview to Reem and Lara.
Signature, Location, Date