Campaign to amend penalty for sexual assault crimes in Lebanon

On Friday, ABAAD launched a campaign to demand the amendment of Chapter Seven of the Lebanese Penal Code, on sexual assault crimes, calling on implementing stricter penalties for such crimes.

ABAAD Resource Center for Gender Equality is a UN ECOSOC-accredited organization that aims to achieve gender equality as an essential condition for sustainable social and economic development in the MENA region.

The campaign coincides with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Nov. 25. The UN Commission for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women is launching a 16-day campaign to combat gender-based violence. Some Lebanese parties and trade unions, such as the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Kataeb Party, and the National Federation of Worker and Employee Trade Unions, responded to this UN call by holding meetings on Friday.

A recent ABAAD national survey showed that over half of women who were sexually assaulted in Lebanon did not report the crime due to considerations relating to dignity and honor.

A survivor of sexual assault who shared her experience with ABAAD said: “I was raped, and discovered I was pregnant five months after the crime. My family forbid me to report the perpetrator because they feared what people would say, and my brother threatened to kill me. I was in a deep state of shock, and was very affected psychologically, experiencing constant fear, anxiety, and wanting to isolate.”

The survey stated: “Six out of ten women who were sexually assaulted in Lebanon did not report the crime due to considerations relating to dignity and honor. While 75 percent of women considered sexual assault primarily a physical and psychological assault on women, 71 percent stated that the society considers it an attack on the family’s honor.”

According to the Security Forces’ figures, 57 cases of sexual assault were reported between January 2022 and October 2022 in Lebanon; 20 cases of rape and 37 cases of sexual harassment; an average of six cases per month.

ABAAD’s main message is that sexual assault is a crime worthy of a serious sentence to achieve justice for survivors first and foremost and to protect women and girls from sexual assault crimes.

The organization’s national survey included 1,800 women and girls residing in Lebanon (1,200 Lebanese, 400 Syrian, 200 Palestinian), whose ages ranged between 18 and 50 years, of different walks of life, living in various Lebanese regions.

Ghida Anani, Director of ABAAD, said: “We have already begun coordinating with all relevant parliamentarian blocs in the Lebanese Parliament to submit the proposed legal amendments of Chapter Seven of the Lebanese Penal Code. We count on the legislature in Lebanon to approve the proposed amendments and provide every survivor and victim of those crimes the justice they deserve.”

According to the survey, six out of ten women who have been sexually assaulted did not report it due to dignity and honor, and five out of ten women who were sexually assaulted did not report it because their families refused to do so due to dignity and honor.

It seemed remarkable that the behavior of women changed in reporting, as it differed between those who were sexually assaulted and those who were not subjected to sexual assault.

Women who were not subjected to sexual violence confirmed, at a very high rate (84 percent), that they would report such an assault. However, paradoxically, this percentage decreased significantly (55 percent) for women who were sexually assaulted, under the pressure of dignity and honor.

One of the testimonies read: “I was raped. I did not report it to the security forces because I did not have legal papers. I have been a refugee in Lebanon for years, and I was afraid that I would be arrested. I did not tell anyone about the crime, and what torments me most today is that the perpetrator was not punished.”

Four out of ten women who were sexually assaulted did not report the assault because no one would believe them. In contrast, two others did not report it because they do not trust that any action would be taken against the perpetrator.

Articles 503 and 504 of the Lebanese Penal Code define the crime of rape as the coercion by violence, threats, deception, or abuse of a mental or physical impairment, of any person other than one's spouse into sexual intercourse, and lay down the punishment for this offense.

“Sixty percent of the participants in the study supported increasing the penal sentences to life imprisonment for perpetrators of sexual violence, indecent acts, and threats, while 56 percent of the participants in the study considered that current sentences against perpetrators of sexual violence, indecent acts, and threats are unfair and are in favor of increasing them to life imprisonment,” the survey noted.

Organizations have previously worked on abolishing Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which exempts a rapist from punishment if he marries the victim.

The Gender Working Group (GWG), the Gender-Based Violence Working Group (GBV WG), and the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW) have stated: “Violence against women and girls remains the most widespread and pervasive human rights violation worldwide affecting more than an estimated one in three women; a figure that has remained largely unchanged over the last decade. The most recent global estimates show that, on average, a woman or girl is killed by someone in her own family every 11 minutes.”

In this context, Joanna Wronecka, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, said: “The 16 days of activism are a reminder that we should not be silent to such a violation of women’s basic right to live in dignity, free from violence and fear. Lebanon’s recovery and building a better future for the country and its citizens depends to a large extent on empowering women and giving them the space to enjoy their full rights as active partners in society. The UN stands ready to support Lebanon in this process.”

The campaign, which will run for 16 days, from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, consists of a social media campaign with the #16days and #سوا_ضد_العنف hashtags. It will also include a video and a series of social media posts calling for everyone’s commitment to protecting women and girls.