After I wrote a post last month touching on the issue of prostitution, this blog has been receiving hits from searches such as “beirut AND prostitute.” And while “russian prostitutes lebanon” is an expected search term, “beirut indian prostitutes” might come as more of a surprise — and both searches have led here. But these search terms are two faces of the same coin.
Most reporters on prostitution in Lebanon “venture” to Maameltein or to Hamra and many end up unwittingly marketing prostitution rather than shedding light on its problems. This Meow Lebanon article, for example, makes human trafficking sound almost benign. A better researched report from Executive magazine (via Qifa Nabki) deals with some of the problems of semi-legal prostitution of the super nightclubs, such as the practice of withholding women’s passports and restricting their movements. But with its artsy photographs (many from Amsterdam!) and its detailed description of the logistics, it feels at points like something out of a tourist guide. The fact that it does not venture beyond Maameltein and Hamra either contributes to the relatively “rosy” picture of the business.
The darker side is very dark. There is a certain hierarchy to prostitution in Lebanon, topped by the super nightclubs and their well-off clientele. Lebanese, Egyptian, and other Arab sex workers come next, many working the seedier places such as the older bars of Hamra. Further down the ladder lie the less known facets of prostitution. A recent article (h/t: Antoun) begins to scratch the surface by touching on forced and family aspects of the business. Far less common are discussions of under-aged prostitutes, both boys and girls. As one descends the prostitutional ladder, leaving Maameltein and Hamra behind, the value of the human body drops radically. The markets of Khaldeh and Sabra Palestinian Camp offer bodies as young as 14 for the equivalent of $6.5-$20.
A very fragile and invisible group occupies the lowest rung: female workers from Africa and Asia. Though some light is being shed on the abuse domestics in Lebanon are subject to, not enough is being said about the destitution and deception that leads some to prostitution. One can only imagine how fragile the position of a domestic worker would be if she ends up out of cash and living illegally in Lebanon. And there is no dearth of people willing to take advantage of that. I know from a friend who is active in human rights that some who come to the country as domestic workers end up offering sexual services in Ouzaii, Khaldeh, and Dawrah for as little as $6.5. Others are deceived into coming to Lebanon for the sole purpose of prostitution, as is the case with Burundi and undoubtedly many more.
The Lebanese authorities are complicit in all these various forms. Whether in the semi-legalized glamor of Maameltein or the desert of human rights of Palestinians and foreign laborers, the hand of the law is there: overlooking, encouraging, taking bribes, setting visa categories, and perpetuating the depraved conditions that make the oldest profession in the world a flourishing business in Lebanon. As far as reporters go, however, the lower down the ladder one goes, the less sexy the topic becomes. So do not expect to see photographs of the brothels of the poor adorning the pages of a glossy magazine.