Prostitution in Lebanon: Tourism or Exploitation!?

It is said to be the oldest job in history.. It comes in different names, including prostitution, sex workers, hookers, cabarets, bars, strip clubs… etc.. Still it is one of the easiest ways to acquire an amount of money. There is no shortage of girls when it comes to Lebanon. And not just any girls! But call girls, escorts, and prostitutes! These women come from different regions of the world including Lebanon, Morroco, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Romania, Ethiopia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and from many more underdeveloped states all over the world. International workers are generally restricted by work permits and conditions for entry. According to these rules and regulations, the regular working hours which are 22:00 until 5:00; remaining at their hotel from 5:00 until 13:00, being allowed to leave the hotel daily from 13:00 until 19:00; and being prohibited from marrying a Lebanese national.

Most of these groups of women (especially Eastern European) enter on an artist visa which allows them to enter and work in Lebanon after signing a work contract which is approved by the Directorate of the General Security. According to the General Security, around 5,500 women enter Lebanon each year to work as ‘artists’.

Amina is a 31 year old woman, who currently works as a house-keeper for Dar Al-Amal. She was raped at the age of 17. At the age of 17, she left home. Being frustrated and having no future job prospects, gave up her first child for adoption, and set out for a career as a sex worker. She got into the business through a girl she knew who was working as a sex worker and showed her the ropes. According to Amina, the clients weren’t that bad. They were good. The minimum she would receive as payment would be 20,000 L.L. (approximately US$13.30). When Amina would ‘go out’ with the customer, she would first not feel anything. She would feel empty and then she would hate herself. The main reason that pushed her to change her career was meeting her husband. He was a taxi driver who would take her around whenever she needed and they got to know each other and fell in love. They were married for about 13 years, and had a beautiful daughter, who is now 9 years old. However, life is never easy. Her husband died not long ago in a car accident. So now her life is devoted to her daughter.

Another type of clubs is the so called in Lebanon ‘Cabaret’ or Super Night Club which can be found in Beirut, Jounieh and ofcourse the capital of Super Night clubs Maameltain. It is the ‘Impresario’s’ job to find women for these different clubs. Since the club owner doesn’t meet the women he employs before they arrive to the country, and the women are sponsored by the ‘Impresario’, who is responsible for dealing with any problems that arise with the employment of these women.

For example, if a club is having difficulty with one of the women. He calls the ‘Impresario’. If he is to deport her, he would be losing a lot of money. The club owner would also be losing a lot of money because he is short one girl and waiting for a new one to come from overseas would take too long. So the ‘Impresario’ would try to switch the difficult woman with another woman – whom he also sponsors – from another club.

In this industry, the profits are great. You can’t even imagine the amount of profit one can make from this business. For example, the ‘Impresario’ knows a woman, who from one single client in the span of 3 months made US$34,000 all alone. This woman is very strong and has a big reputation. She doesn’t go out with many clients, but she has, for example, 10 very loyal selected clients. This woman is a high class escort.

According to the Lebanese law, ‘Cabaret’ women are not allowed to leave the club, unless it is her day off. It is illegal for a migrant sex worker to be pregnant. If a woman were to get pregnant, she will automatically get deported. When a woman first arrives, she gets tested for everything at Hotel Dieu, and every 3 months she must get tested for pregnancy and diseases. Each test costs around US$320. Every month, it costs around US$200 for visa renewal for every woman employed. Even though there are a lot of profits to be made in this industry, but there are also a lot of expenses.

There are controls and penalties imposed on Super Night Clubs to ‘ensure’ that people working in this industry don’t get carried away. For example, if the owner of the club did something wrong, like hitting one of the women, and it was reported, then he would be subject to imprisonment between 2 weeks and 3 months. The  penalties extend to stopped from employing more women from abroad for that duration of time. The only options they have are to transfer women from one club to another or deport them.

They can’t bring them in. Sometimes, clubs get shut down by the authorities. This happens when a rival club is very well connected and very well protected and is trying to keep control over the major profits in certain areas. But this happens very rarely. The famous Makhfar Hbeish (Hbeish Police Station)  is also involved in this industry. Whenever any paper needs to be filed at the General Security, it also gets processed at Hbeish.

When it comes to issues concerning drugs and any wrongdoing that occurs on the women’s days-off, it is the responsibility of Makhfar Hbeish to deal with them. Sometimes what happens is that the clubs that are protected by the General Security, so this latter will try to impose penalties on clubs that are protected by Makhfar Hbeish and the other way around. But in the end the General Security pulls rank. In order to run a successful business, the club owner would need to be well connected on both ends. And in Lebanon, everyone takes bribes. The corruption runs deep in this industry, including the government departments involved.

Such industries need be backed by muscles, and we do not mean bouncers, but political muscles. The so called Silent Partners are usually 3 to 4 well connected politicians that act as silent partners in different clubs. But these clubs are more corrupt. They have a tendency of dealing with money laundery and more. They don’t really care if they are subject to penalties as they are ‘swimming in money’.

This industry is pretty well controlled in Lebanon. There are around 127 Super Night Clubs all over Lebanon. Only the extremely rare few are able to get away with a lot. So imagine with this many clubs how much money is being made, and this money is not taxed; it’s pure profits. The numbers are just unimaginable. However, there is still room for improvements. Albeit, the system that is in place in Lebanon is one of the top systems in the world, and it really tries to protect these women against abuse. But they still need to improve their work ethics and be more honest in their work.

Researched: Youmna Hachach

All photos used have been selected to emphasize the article and are not representing any area in Lebanon.