Lebanon has had a long, complicated history when it comes to the legalization of prostitution. Currently however, prostitution has been legalized as long as one possesses a license. Yet, Lebanon hasn’t issued any licenses since the 1970s, making women working as prostitutes vulnerable to being jailed. Additionally, most of the women doing this work are Syrian women who are victims of human trafficking, having been brought to Lebanon and forced into prostitution. The US State Department has placed Lebanon on its watchlist of countries that fail to abide by human trafficking standards.
The mass influx of Syrian women and children refugees makes them very vulnerable to exploitation. Many times, women are married to a man who turns out to be a trafficker, while other women are sold to traffickers by their desperate family members. Most of these women want to leave this work, but lack the means to do so, in part because there is dire shortage of outreach programs to assist them. Paul, a volunteer for the Jesuits, explained to Al Jazeera that, in 2016, 75 trafficked Syrian women were confined in a brothel in the coastal town of Jounieh, where they were held for years, without any external assistance.
The work done to help get these women escape prostitution is nearly impossible for many reasons. First, it is unsafe for people to help these women. Paul told Al Jazeera, “The last time I tried to help one of them get in touch with an NGO, I got beaten and threatened by her captors.” Furthermore, Lebanon’s prejudice and cultural views on these women perpetuate the cycle. Culturally, Syrian women are seen as “just” prostitutes or criminals, and not as victims.
This issue will prevail until the state recognizes these women as victims and as living and breathing human beings who need support.
Source: Daniela Sala, “The Syrian Women and Girls Sold into Sexual Slavery in Lebanon,” Al Jazeera, February 10 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/syrian-women-girls-sold-sexual-slavery-lebanon-200128131326 841.html.
Student Researcher: Catania Ayala (College of Marin)
Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)