BEIRUT: The number of women seeking legal advice in cases of violence in Lebanon appears to be on the rise, according to a new report about the NGO KAFA’s Support Center for victims of violence.
Titled “About Violence Against Women and KAFA’s Support Center,” the report said that 768 women had sought legal advice from the center in 2018, up from 633 women in 2017.
It is expected to be launched by the end of the week.
The pace of litigation in cases of gender-based violence has increased in recent years, it found.
“Initially, we were filing one lawsuit in a month or two. Now we are filing nearly six cases a month,” the report quoted a lawyer at KAFA’s Support Center as saying.
The organization releases annual reports on violence against women in Lebanon, but this is the first time the Support Center is releasing numbers and testimonials from women who have received help from the center.
Rayan Majed, a representative from KAFA who wrote the report, told The Daily Star that the increase in the number of people seeking legal support indicated women were becoming less afraid to speak up.
This is due to a variety of reasons outlined in the report, including an increase in media coverage on cases of domestic violence, Majed said.
KAFA, an NGO combating violence against women, runs the center, which provides social, legal and psychological support to women and children from all socio-economic backgrounds who are victims of violence.
It is one of the most prominent centers of its kind in Lebanon.
The Support Center began in 2005 as a “listening and counseling” service, but has grown throughout the years to include more services, such as a 24-hour support line and training for 1,300 members of the Internal Security Forces on how to handle domestic violence cases.
The center also helps women seek urgent legal action like obtaining a protection order.
In other cases, it offers services such as psychological evaluations to assess whether a victim is emotionally and mentally ready to file a lawsuit and confront an abuser in court before she resorts to a lawyer.
Some of the main reasons women don’t seek help is because they feel as though they are alone in their circumstances, or are afraid of leaving their children or losing the right to see them. Some religious courts in Lebanon force divorced women to give up custody of their children to the biological father once they reach a certain age.
“My son was 4 years old when he saw his father beat me. He started shaking and crying. He was scared it would be his turn next. When my husband left the room, he ran to me and said he wanted to be a doctor when he was older to heal me,” said a woman referred to as Layal, whose name was changed in the report. Layal had to give up custody of her children when she left her abuser.
“He is now 8 years old and I know nothing about him,” she said.
Despite the difficulties women face in seeking support, the steadily increasing number of women resorting to KAFA’s Support Center suggest that they are becoming more vocal about abuse.
The report stated that in 2013, 293 women received some form of care from the Support Center, and that this rose to 624 in 2014, 772 in 2015, 909 in 2016, 1,070 in 2017 and 1,107 in 2018.
According to the report, this is in part because widespread media coverage in recent years of cases such as that of Manal Assi, who in 2016 was bludgeoned to death by her husband with a pressure cooker, has enabled other victims to identify abuse in their own household and empowered them to seek legal assistance.
“One of the women who came to the Support Center was scared to leave her husband, who would beat her. When she saw [Assi’s] story, she decided to leave her husband, because he also beat her with a pot. She didn’t want to die like [Assi] so she left her husband,” Majed said.
Because of coverage of stories like Assi’s, family members, friends and neighbors are also more vocal about reporting domestic violence incidents, Majed added.
The adoption of a law aiming to protect women and children from domestic violence in 2014 has helped restore confidence in the legal system as well, she said.
Since then, KAFA has proposed amendments to the law, including one that would widen the definition of domestic abuse.
For example, the current domestic violence law does not cover violence committed by ex-husbands against their wives and children.
Of the 1,107 women who sought the Support Center’s services in 2018, 258 had been married as minors and 21 were minors who were married at the time they reached out to KAFA.
Seven hundred and nine of the 1,107 women said they had experienced violence from their husband, 61 had experienced violence from an ex-husband and the remaining women had been abused by acquaintances, employers, parents or unknown people.
Majed maintained that a lot of work remained to be done, and that the problems facing women and victims of violence were numerous.
“There needs to be a civil status court that is egalitarian and balanced and provides the same rights for men and for women,” Majed suggested, a step she said she saw as necessary to prevent and eliminate violence against women.
She said she hoped that the report and findings from the Support Center would build a better picture of the reality of violence in Lebanon and show that violence affected women from all backgrounds.
“Women are still treated like minors ... and domestic violence is the most dominant form [of violence]. We need to start by giving women rights within families and to treat them like real participants in the family,” she said.