For many years, KAFA has worked against violence against women and their campaign signs are a common feature in the Lebanese public space. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.
For many years, KAFA has worked against violence against women and their campaign signs are a common feature in the Lebanese public space. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.

Lebanon: Trafficking survivors risk charges of prostitution

Earlier this spring, Lebanese police uncovered one of the largest trafficking networks ever in Lebanon. Today, many of the women receive support from women human rights organisation KAFA, which is fighting for society to recognize the vulnerability of the women.

The large trafficking network was uncovered in the town of Jounieh north of Beirut. At least 75 women, mainly from Syria and Iraq, had been imprisoned, used for selling sex and subjected to torture-like abuse. Today, the women receive shelter and social, legal and psychological support from The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organisation KAFA, which works to combat violence and exploitation of women in Lebanon.

Ghada Jabbour

“Right now, the biggest challenge for the women is to regain a trust in life. Helping women who have been subjected to trafficking and prostitution takes many years. It is very difficult to rebuild something that has been torn down,” says Ghada Jabbour, one of the founders of KAFA and head of its trafficking unit.

Criminalization of victims

Women who have been subjected to trafficking do not receive any support from the government. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of non-governmental organisations such as KAFA to see to that the women are being helped. Much of KAFA’s work revolves around raising awareness to the fact that women who are subjected to trafficking are victims, not criminals, and that they must be protected by the law. All forms of prostitution is illegal in Lebanon. The anti-trafficking law that was adopted in 2011 states that a person subjected to trafficking is a victim of a crime, but the burden of proof lies with the person who has been trafficked.

KAFA (enough) Violence & ExploitationKAFA means “enough” in Arabic. The organization was founded in 2005 and carries out its work for women’s rights on three levels:

1. Campaigns to raise the public awareness of the issues, such as the campaign “You can’t buy love”, addressing sex buyers.

2. Advocacy work towards decision-makers and politicians to bring about changes in laws and policies.

3. Help and support to victims of trafficking, such as the women in the Jounieh case.

“They have to prove that they were actually forced into prostitution, which often leads to a double punishment. First the women are subjected to trafficking, then they are convicted for prostitution. The Jounieh case is the first where the women actually are seen as victims. We will build on this to bring about change in the legislation,” says Ghada Jabbour.

Claimed consent

At the same time as the uncovering of the trafficking network led to some people beginning to understand that women subjected to trafficking are victims, there are still those who want to blame the women. The man who brought the women to Lebanon has appeared on TV, claiming that they were consenting and not being trafficked.

“It is very dangerous that false information like that is being spread. The women we work with have been extremely exposed,” says Ghada Jabbour.

According to her, very few women in trafficking and prostitution are there of their own free will.

“Women who are being recruited to prostitution are often vulnerable, for reasons including their socioeconomic situation or previous experiences of sexual abuse. Even when they are not being subjected to trafficking they are often being exploited.”

Should be focus on sex buyers

KAFA works to eliminate all forms of punishment for people selling sex, and tries to show the connection between prostitution and trafficking, that they are made possible by the same demand. Focus should be on those who make the exploitation of women possible, that is, the sex buyers, Ghada Jabbour says.

“We must discuss what the factors behind normalizing prostitution are and why everything revolves around men’s sexuality. Men should not use their economic and social privileges to force someone to have sex with them who really does not want to,” Ghada Jabbour says and emphasizes that the lack of equality in society is why trafficking and prostitution exist in the first place.

“It comes down to the normalized view of women as being objects. We need to change the mentality of people regarding these issues, and that is a huge challenge.”

Despite this, Ghada Jabbour is hopeful.

“When we started talking about domestic violence many years ago, people rejected the idea that it was something worth discussing. Today, we have a law against domestic violence, and media covers different cases where women have been subjected to violence. When it comes to trafficking and prostitution, a lot of people see their existence as normal. But we have to open up the discussion. What took place this spring has strengthened the work for change.”

Cecilia Samuelsson

Updated in: 2016-06-15