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News - October 20, 2013

Women’s groups urge protection against sexual violence

Women’s organizations urged Lebanese leaders Tuesday to recognize the rising number of sexual harassment incidents, vowing to keep up the fight against domestic violence. The Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering chaired a meeting in cooperation with the Open Society Foundations aimed at identifying and raising awareness over issues relating to sexual violence against women in Lebanon.

The gathering, which took place at UNESCO Palace in Verdun, included a number of women’s organizations. Most were made up entirely of females and only a few males.

The meeting was organized to address the increasing number of cases of sexual harassment of women, believed to be correlated to the deteriorating security situation.

“It is time to raise our voices before such incidents increase further,” said Caroline Sakr, the program coordinator at the Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering.

“We are addressing today those responsible for the protection of human beings in Lebanon concerning issues that can no longer be postponed and that cannot lag behind, especially since we are giving justifications to those acting violently in the name of tradition and human nature,” she added.

According to Sakr, the number of victims of sexual violence increases every year, even though awareness campaigns to curb them have also been on the rise.

Domestic rape is a crime in over 104 countries, but has not been acknowledged in Lebanese law, despite Parliament’s joint committees having approved a draft law aimed at protecting women from domestic violence in July.

Lawyer Marie-Rose Zalzal confirmed that sexual violence has not been acknowledged as a crime in the Lebanese legal system.

She added that women who have been sexually abused typically do not choose to report their experience to the authorities, and due to the fact that many of the victims are minors it is up to the parents to make the decision.

Roula al-Masri, the gender equality program coordinator at the non-profit organization Abaad, added that a large number of Syrian refugee girls and women have been subject to sexual violence, some at the hands of their host communities.

Refugee women, especially widows, have had to turn to “survival sex” due to their families’ subpar living conditions.

Early-age marriages are also prominent among the refugee communities, Masri added.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is also markedly on the rise, especially with more women entering the workforce. Sexual harassment has also been identified as occurring more frequently in schools and in prisons.

Incest is also particularly dangerous, Sakr said, as victims go through intense loneliness because they have been abused by someone they trust, and they are therefore unable to discuss it with family members.

A woman at the gathering who chose to remain anonymous recalled being sexually molested as early as the age of 5 by her paternal aunt’s husband, who then raped her when she turned 12. As happens in many cases, he told her he would kill her parents if she revealed anything about the abuse.

While she did end up telling her mother, the latter said there was nothing that could be done about it. As an adult, she got married and had a daughter. Her husband raped her as well and while in the custody of a guardian, her daughter was also molested when she was 10 years old.

According to the organization, studies show that women who have been subject to sexual violence suffer from several long-term emotional and psychological issues including depression, guilt, fear of intercourse, isolation, insomnia and alcohol and substance abuse.

“We call on our right to live in a safe environment free from sexual and emotional abuse,” Sakr said. “We want more protection from sexual violence.”

 Source: The Daily Star