HomePoliticsAnalysisUnmasking Lebanon’s Multi-Faceted Violence Crisis

Unmasking Lebanon’s Multi-Faceted Violence Crisis

The economic crisis in Lebanon has led to an increase in violent incidents, particularly towards women and children, experts say.

In this handout picture provided by ABAAD, activists hang slogans written on bed sheets and pieces of cloth, in front of the Lebanese parliament in the capital Beirut on November 26, 2022, demanding the amendment of the articles related to sexual assault crimes against women and the tightening of sentences for perpetrators. According to Abaad, 6 out of 10 women who were sexually assaulted in Lebanon did not report the crime due to considerations relating to dignity and honor. Photo: Patrick Baz, Abaad, AFP

Violence in Lebanon has been on the rise, even in unexpected places. Incidents range from attacks on bars in major cities to a disturbing increase in cases of domestic violence against women.

Just 24 hours after a freedom march in Beirut, which was attended by LGBTQ+ advocates, came to a violent end, Cloud 59 bar in Tyre became the target of an attack perpetrated by masked assailants. Witnesses suggest that homophobia may have been the motivation behind this incident;   there were no serious injuries reported. Although the event at the late-night bar was not necessarily pro-LGBTQ+, it had gained social media attention due to rainbow flags being displayed.

Kafa, a women’s rights NGO, whose members took part in the freedom protest last weekend, released a statement explaining that “In recent months, the authorities have devised a plan to suppress civil society, activists, and journalists who call for accountability and stand against impunity policies. They have created an imaginary enemy to the people under the pretext of the “threat of homosexuality” and the necessity to combat it.” 

These events follow a year filled with stories of violent incidents, including a surge in femicides and LGBTQ+ hate crimes. These incidents have underscored the shortcomings of Lebanon’s security and judicial systems, which experts argue are failing to deliver appropriate punishments.

While social and economic factors have contributed to this rise in violence, experts believe that there is growing awareness that could help address the issue in the future. However, at present, there is a pressing need for the judiciary to take more effective action.

What is happening?

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered significant economic and social challenges throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. These difficulties have contributed to a troubling surge in various forms of maltreatment, including physical abuse, verbal harassment, psychological trauma, sexual exploitation, and even child marriage and child labor.

Experts warn that this distressing trend is expected to worsen. Research indicates that deeply ingrained traditional attitudes, which perpetuate gender inequality and an uneven power dynamic between men and women, as well as between parents and children, are at the root of this issue. Without substantial legal reforms to establish robust safeguards and safety measures for vulnerable children, it is likely that this disturbing phenomenon will persist and continue to have a detrimental impact on the region.

Children, in particular, have suffered greatly.

July’s end saw a parent file a complaint against an employee of the Druze Orphanage, (R.Z.). This person was accused of intimidating and harassing very young people housed within the institution. However, only a few weeks later, the charges were dropped after leaked transcripts from the investigation showed how R.Z. had asked these minors for sexual favors and became aggressive when denied; even going so far as to record instances of resistance. It appears that those who ran the orphanage had knowledge of what had happened.

International expert in the field of child protection, Zeina Alloush, told NOW that A direct link between poverty and violence exists in Lebanon due to degrading economic conditions. She emphasized that access to necessary services is often lacking for those with limited resources, making them more vulnerable to abuse. Conversely, however, those with more financial means can more easily hide or get away with their criminal acts.

Alloush also pointed out that the social culture in Lebanon and the wider MENA region often justifies violence, which can lead perpetrators to believe they can evade justice, and that their crimes will eventually be forgotten.

“It is almost important to note that the lack of governmental presence means that more violations will occur, putting children and women at higher risks,” Alloush stated.

Regarding the aftermath of abuse, Alloush stressed that “those children cannot transition to becoming survivors without the right support. They will be trapped in trauma and may be caught in a vicious cycle where they might recreate trauma.” 

The most vulnerable

According to Celine AlKek, support center coordinator and social worker at KAFA, which offers psychological, social, physical, and legal support, there have been 14 reported cases of women killed this year.

It is likely that the reported numbers are far lower than the actual figures due to significant efforts to conceal events in the nation’s local areas. In truth, it is impossible to know exactly how many people have been affected by this problem.

In Lebanon, the management of gender-based violence is largely inadequate. Lebanese Law No. 2932 stipulates that forms of violence against women are criminal offenses; however, it is not properly enforced, and response systems contain noticeable deficiencies.

According to AlKek, the lack of accountability and poor enforcement perpetuate a “culture of impunity that allows perpetrators to continue their abusive behavior.”

“Women have to consider their financials when they have to make the decision to leave their partners and seek help since the economic situation made it more difficult for women to be financially independent,” she said.

Alkek added that the fact that the judiciary takes time to make decisions means that justice is often delayed.

“Although social media has helped more cases be known, we have seen that women who we were working with were feeling more fear about being the next victims of murder by their partners,” she said.

About 1,000 new women have sought help at Kafa this year, AlKek pointed out. In fact, a study they have done showed that Psychological abuse was the most at 54 percent, then physical at 29 percent, economic at 11 percent, sexual at 5 percent, and legal at 1 percent.”

“However, on the plus side, we’ve been seeing more people reporting abuse, not only the victims but their surroundings as well, which is a new phenomenon that shows that more and more people are refusing all sorts of abuse,” she said.

“This could also stop perpetrators from going further with their actions as people are actively shaming them and exposing their actions,” she adds.

Lebanon has been witnessing several abuse cases with violence reaching houses, public places, and even streets where demonstrations are no longer safe. With a lack of governmental support, Lebanese society members are left to fend for themselves. 

Dana Hourany is a multimedia journalist with @NOW_leb. She is on Instagram @danahourany and Twitter @danahourany.