By Jamila Haddad
On 25 April 2018, the Grand Jury of Beirut issued a decision accusing five Lebanese of trafficking in 35 foreign workers of Filipino nationality by exploiting them and forcing them into prostitution in Lebanon.
An arrest warrant was issued for each one of them, with their referral to the court of assizes in Beirut to bring them for prosecution.
The jury pointed out that these people work within a network, where they brought female workers as massage therapists. However, the victims discovered later, while coming to Lebanon that they have to provide customers with additional sexual services, under the threat of returning them to their home countries after forcing them to pay the financial costs, in case they disagree to have sex with customers, in addition to the use of force against them.
This judicial decision came about two years after the investigations of the Information Division of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces. It was after that a patrol from the Beirut Information Branch arrested one of the indicted on 8/8/2016 because of a number of judicial rulings against him and after their discover of an information book regarding his facilitation of practicing prostitution in a massage center. The ownership and management of the center is shared by five Lebanese persons who have been prosecuted.
The massage center has five branches. Investigations have shown that there are prostitution acts of two of them in this center. Each one of the two branches has about 20 women of Filipino nationality. However, only six workers possess valid documents for residency and work permits, while about 35 workers have no official documents and "legal" papers regarding the nature of their work.
The passports of these workers are held by members of this network and some employees to guarantee their obedience to do these additional "services" requested by the customers, which are represented in the dallying of their genital organs, oral sex and full sex depending on the amount paid by customers and depending on their requests.
The workers charged with these additional services get about $ 20 for oral sex, $ 100 for workplace sex and $ 300 for moving to the hotel. On the other hand, each worker receives $ 300 monthly.
Paradoxically, the investigations showed that there is a book of information against the employers of the center and its five branches on facilitating prostitution in 2014 and 2015, but they were released on bail.
Although the employers denied any acts of indecency in the massage centers, the girls accused one of the employers of threatening them in case they "bothered the customer" and did not meet his additional requests.
This fact raises many questions about the seriousness of the investigations conducted by the relevant Lebanese authorities in the search for the criminals in the cases of prostitution in Lebanon, due to the tight link between prostitution on the one hand and trafficking on the other hand.
The case comes two years after the disclosure of “Chez Maurice” network, the largest trafficking network of 75 Syrian women, who practiced prostitution under threatening, as they were threatened by killing, beating and other methods.
It is noteworthy that a number of Lebanese human rights activists raise many questions about the "behavior" of the Lebanese judiciary and the relevant authorities in this type of cases. In spite of the "horrendous" data uncovered by the “Chez Maurice” case regarding the violations committed against the Syrian refugees’ women, “Imad Al-Rihawi”, the head of the network, who had raped the girls who refused to practice prostitution, was released, as the judiciary dealt with him as a "facilitator of prostitution" and not "a human trafficker".
In fact, there is a difference between the two abovementioned crimes, as the first one’s (the facilitation of prostitution) punishment is up to one year for the perpetrator, while for the second for (trafficking), it is about 15 years.
In addition, the Human-Trafficking in Persons Act did not prohibit the release of the perpetrator, contrary to other crimes.
According to “Ghada Jabbour”, the head of the exploitation and trafficking department in KAFA, Enough Violence & Exploitation organization, "The human trafficking law in Lebanon is currently unable to protect the girls who are being exploited in prostitution.”
Referring to the issue of the Filipino working women, it is noted that the Grand Jury did not have trust in the working women according to article 523, concerning the practice of secret prostitution, without paying attention to the fragility of their legal and social status and their marginalizing as victims of trafficking.
It is noteworthy that out of the 1 600 detained people in the Anti-Trafficking and Ethics Office in 2011 and 2014, only 38 people were arrested for trafficking, according to the security forces statistics, which reveals the absence of serious investigations in dealing with the girls’ testimonies, who were subjected to threats and exploitation, including beatings by the pimps, who were released later.