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Lebanon crisis

Fighting the spread of Lebanon's silent pandemic: Domestic abuse

Published: Updated:

An increase in domestic violence incidents against women, with several murders during the Covid-19 lockdown, has triggered waves of concern and anger across Lebanon.

The Internal Security Forces (ISF) announced recently that cases of domestic violence against women skyrocketed by 96% during Lebanon’s strictest lockdown.

Several murders in recent weeks have shocked the country. The fashion model Zeina Kanjou was found smothered to death last month, with her husband the prime suspect in her death.

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A man was arrested for abusing and killing his uncle’s wife after she rejected his sexual advances. Another case involved a devastating knife-attack incident, with a mother struggling for her life in hospital now, after her husband repeatedly stabbed her chest and lungs when a colleague accompanied her to work.

Worrying increase in domestic violence

The ISF’s Public Relations Department Head, Colonel Joseph Moussallem told Al Arabiya English that between February 2019 and 2020, the ISF’s 1745 domestic violence complaints hotline recorded 747 calls. He revealed that during 2020 to 2021 over 1,468 calls were made.

“The victim herself, family members and neighbors play a major role in reporting any case of home violence,” Moussallem said.

According to numbers provided by the ISF, 62 percent of complaints were lodged by abused women, with 61 percent of that number made against husbands.

Describing the hotline by a ‘rescuer and protector’ for victimized women, Moussallem said emergency respondents who attend to victims on 1745 are well-trained, and attend special workshops on how to deal with complainants.

“In case a caller is under looming danger, we instantly dispatch a plain-clothed police patrol to the location to dodge panic or embarrassment especially in the presence of children or neighbors. The involved parties would be taken to the police station for interrogations,” Moussallem explained. He encouraged the public to report any suspected case of home violence and help combat these crimes.

Hayat Mirshad from the women’s activist group Fe-Male, said that during curfew, women live with potential abusers under the same roof, with many having little access to protection or support. (File photo: Supplied by Fe-Male)
Hayat Mirshad from the women’s activist group Fe-Male, said that during curfew, women live with potential abusers under the same roof, with many having little access to protection or support. (File photo: Supplied by Fe-Male)

Under the same roof

Hayat Mirshad a co-director of Fe-Male, a NGO formed in 2012, said online awareness and media campaigns have introduced women to the hotline, enabling them to report abuse confidentially.

Mirshad, who is also editor-in-chief of Sharika Wa Laken, an online news platform that reports on feminine issues explained that during curfew, women live with potential abusers under the same roof, with lots having little access to protection or support.

“Women become potential prey to their partners or households while quarantined with abusers for long periods while having limited access to the police. Violence has spread among people in general, but against women in particular due to compelling social, financial, emotional and medical factors inflicted during lockdowns. Another cause is that we live in a male-dominated society that permits men to dominate women, who constantly feel subdued,” she said.

She observed that legislators and policing bodies are lenient when enforcing the law making abusers feel “untouchable and unaccountable.”

Zeina Kanjou was a young woman murdered, another victim of domestic violence. (Instagram)
Zeina Kanjou was a young woman murdered, another victim of domestic violence. (Instagram)

To curtail domestic violence, Mirshad believes that enforcing justice against perpetrators is crucial.

In 2014, Lebanon sanctioned the Domestic Violence Law, with amendments made last year to include addressing the need for more support, and protection for women encountering domestic abuse.

“Though the law remains subject for further betterment, it could be utilized to push for, and provide tangible protection and support to abused women. The moral is in implementing the law through swift responses by the pertinent judges, speeding up litigation and adjudication processes, stiffening punishments and having skilled policemen, who are aware of gender-based sensitivities when handling cases of domestically abused women,” Mirshad said.

She claimed that the authorities haven’t offered any financial support for the victims’ wellbeing.

Listed among BBC’s 100 Most Influential and Inspiring Women in 2020, Mirshad concluded that it is the moral obligation of abused woman, fellow citizens, neighbors and family members, to report this type of crime.

Mental Health Support

From a mental health perspective, the increase in incidents of domestic abuse are a result of, but not restricted to, the long hours spent head-to-head at home, said Hiba Dandachli, the Director of Communications for Embrace, a mental health awareness organization.

Other causes are existing tendencies for abuse, and previous frustrations aggravated from the confinement of lockdowns, she said.

“Individuals at home may have also experienced a severe decrease in control over aspects of life that are related to unemployment and financial security which may create anger, or a need for control or dominance at home,” Dandachli told Al Arabiya English.

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