Interview of the month : Ghada Jabbour, Author of the new study
"EXIT : Challenges and Needs of Lebanese and Syrian Women in Prostitution"
Ghada Jabbour is a Lebanese abolitionist activist, founder of KAFA and currently leading its anti-trafficking division. A few days ago, she published a report called EXIT: Challenges and Needs of Lebanese and Syrian Women in Prostitution.
You can access the study by clicking on the image or by clicking on the link here.
What motivated you to launch this study? What was your main goal when your started it ?
The Exit study was conceived because there’s a general lack of studies and actions around prostitution in Lebanon. This topic is not acknowledged as a problem or priority by governmental and non-governmental actors. And when talked about, it is always from either the moral/criminal perspective that holds women and persons in prostitution as responsible for the existence of this industry, or from a health perspective. Therefore it was important to understand the risks, challenges, and needs of Lebanese and Syrian women in prostitution that are living in Lebanon, including those that have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. It was equally important to frame prostitution - as very well illustrated by all the women interviewed in the study – as a form of violence against women.
The ultimate goal of the study is to inform programing of the Lebanese government and international and local organizations working on women and violence against women issues to address the needs of prostituted and trafficked women, including the design of effective services and exit programs. It also to inform law and policy makers about needed reforms to comprehensively address prostitution and trafficking in Lebanon.
This study includes a large numbers of testimonies collected from direct interviews with women in prostitution in Lebanon. How did you enter in contact with them ? What was their attitudes towards this study ?
The study adopted a qualitative approach and the results were based on semi-structured interviews completed with 19 women in prostitution as well as focus group discussions with 13 service providers from local and international organizations operating in Lebanon, and interviews with 27 key informants across relevant ministries, law enforcement authorities, UN agencies, local and international nonprofit organizations.
Women participants were recruited and interviewed at female prisons where they were arrested or serving a sentence related to prostitution charges, and at services providers’ organizations. We chose these sites because it shielded women from possible interference by sex buyers, pimps and traffickers, and reduced risks of participating in the study.
We followed a research protocol that was approved by institutional board of ethics (IRB) at the American University of Beirut, and which consisted to having a 2-step recruitment process for women in prison. We would meet potential candidates for an information session about the research and then meet voluntary participants after a waiting period of 48 hours.
While the interview contained questions about experiences of violence during childhood and during the time spend in prostitution, women we encountered were receptive and open to us, and they felt safe to share parts of their stories. Such interviews are also a consciousness awareness too. Several women expressed being happy to talk freely about their experiences.
The study’s interviews were conducted over four months, and the topic is very demanding. What were the main challenges you faced during this process?
Women in prostitution is a hard to reach population and a population at risk of exploitation and stigmatization. The main challenge was to reach them without putting them at risk. We opted not to interview women in prostitution who are supported throughout Kafa’s work in order to avoid any feeling of obligation or involuntary participation. We therefore recruited women participants in female prisons and through service providers. This made the task harder.. Another challenge was to secure official permits to access prisons, as well as obtain the approval of the IRB at the American University of Beirut. That latter had many delays and took almost 7 months to get approved, which delayed the start of the study.
In this report, you highlight harsh realities that should raise strong concerns on the situation of women in prostitution in Lebanon. Nobody will be able to say « We didn’t know ». Do you hope that it will wake up Lebanese decision-makers and public opinion on the issue of prostitution ?
"That’s what we hope and are working for. However, building public awareness and securing the buy-in of the political class is a long term journey and requires years of activism. We as Kafa are operating almost alone. For Lebanon to become an abolitionist country where women in prostitution are protected and provided with exit programs and alternatives, women organizations and SGVB service providers need to include prostitution among their programmatic priorities, and decisions-makers need to champion a society free of misogyny and prostitution.