How safe is it for women to get into taxis in Lebanon?

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The rape and murder of a British diplomat in Lebanon at the hands of a taxi driver last month has forced women in the country to confront their fears about getting into cabs alone at night.

Rebecca Dykes was being taken home by a ride-hailing app driver after attending a party in the Beirut nightlife district of Gemayze.

According to a police report, the driver raped and strangled Dykes to death, before leaving her body on a deserted street. Local media reports said the driver had only decided to kill her when he found out she worked at the British embassy. Following the tragic incident, Lebanese women speaking to Al Arabiya English have expressed their concerns.

“My daughters are between the ages 18 and 22 and every time they want to get a taxi, I follow up with wherever they are and if the distance is not too long,” said mother-of-two Hala Hassan.

“We’re always communicating via WhatsApp so that I can be informed about where they are,” Hassan said, adding that she started tracking her kids even more after Dykes’ murder. Others believe that an alternative to ride-hailing apps are a ride-sharing public transportation service, popularly referred to as “service” in the country.

Bana Ghandour, 22, told Al Arabiya English: “I think that taxi companies tend to be safer than ‘service,’ but I have never felt safe taking a cab. Now I need to carry pepper spray at all times, although it’s illegal.”

Ghandour recounted a disturbing experience. “I was in a ‘service’ and the driver was sexually touching himself.” In Lebanon, no legislation exists to prohibit sexual exploitation and harassment. In 2016, a law that allowed rapists to avoid jail by marrying the victim was repealed.

Still, the law does not criminalize the rapist for the act. According to Human Rights Watch, they are ordered to pay a fine, amounting to as little as 10,000-50,000 Lebanese liras ($6.66-$33) as a penalty. Another penalty the rapist could face is six months in prison.

Knowledge is power

An organization called “Knowledge is Power” (KIP), organized a campaign last year named “#Mesh_Basita” (meaning ‘it’s not OK’) in which they raised awareness on verbal and physical sexual harassment.

“The campaign trended in the country and engaged over a million and a half people,” campaign director Charlotte Karam told Al Arabiya English. “Overall, active partnership with the ministry and other civil society activists to push for legislation currently being debated in parliament,” added Karam.

The project is trying its best to reach out to the Lebanese population, including its government, and reduce incidents of sexual harassment and assault.

Member of the Zonta International Group for empowering women in Lebanon, Lamia Al Moghrabi, believes it is important to point out that high-profile rape cases involving ride-hailing apps is not exclusive to Lebanon. These incidents are “not only happening Lebanon,” Moghrabi said.

In recent years, reports of ride-hailing drivers sexually assaulting women in the UK, Australia and India have arisen with some drivers being imprisoned following criminal cases going to court.

In the UK alone, the Metropolitan Police said there was a total of 30 rape cases by private hire journey rides in London over the past year. Moreover, 68 taxi drivers faced criminal charges for sexual assault in Australia according to a local outlet, between 2015 and 2016.