In Lebanon, human trafficking is heavily organized, vastly underreported, and rampantly affecting Lebanese and Syrian refugee women and girls. Victims are often silenced from social stigma, and those who do escape from captivity are often imprisoned under prostitution laws.
In 2017, the Lebanon Internal Security Forces (ISF) formally identified 29 victims of sex trafficking, other organizations such the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimate the number to be in the thousands. Part of this discrepancy in numbers is because of laws in Lebanon that criminalize secret prostitution, which leaves trafficked women vulnerable to arrest or imprisonment for up to a year.
Other laws bar someone from being categorized as a victim if there was any personal gain of money indicating compliance. This is in direct contradiction of the UN Convention on Human Trafficking which says victim’s consent should be irrelevent. Trials for victims are often short and most result in imprisonment on prostitution charges.
In 2016, the largest trafficking network in Lebanon, known as Chez Maurice, was uncovered. Over 75 Syrian women were kept captive with barred and blacked out windows, unable to leave the house except for abortions or treatment for venereal disease. Women there were tortured both physically and psychologically. When the network was uncovered, it made international news and shocked the nation of Lebanon. But today those who were held accountable for the network still await their trial which has been postponed several times.
A large number of victims of trafficking in Lebanon are Syrian refugees, many of whom have fled to Lebanon in recent years to escape violence, but now are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking. Dima Haddad, programme officer at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), says, “Vulnerability is increasing, hence trafficking is increasing.”
Systemic violence reinforces and keeps women trapped in cycles of abuse and sexual slavery. NGO networks such as Caritas and Kafa, an organization that runs a shelter for female survivors of violence, are doing great work in providing aid for victims, but government response is needed to effectively deter and shut down organized networks of human trafficking.
Read more about the ongoing sex trafficking and slavery crisis in Lebanon here.
Read more about the 2016 Chez Maurice case here.