Lebanon’s first sexual harassment trial, scheduled to begin today, was postponed due to the court employees’ strike.
In May of this year, five women brought forth “serial harassment” complaints against Jaafar al-Attar, a film director and journalist. National outcry broke out and a police investigation was launched after the victims’ testimonies went viral on social media.
Actress Tracy Younes first sparked the online movement when she posted screenshots on Instagram showing different conversations and dozens of messages, including late-night calls and selfies. Her Instagram story was shared multiple times online.
Her move prompted many other women to come forward with claims of sexual harassment, demonstrating such evidence as lewd texting and photos. One even accused him of rape, while another accused him of sexual assault.
Al Attar has repeatedly denied all these claims, saying his actions are more of an “annoyance” than abuse.
The case is the first of its kind in Lebanon, with activists hoping this would set a precedent in the country where harassment has only recently been criminalized by law.
“We want to change the mindset so that victims feel empowered to speak up,” said Ayman Raad, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs.
The general prosecution has pressed charges for sexual harassment and should he be convicted, Al Attar will face up to one year in jail; a meagre sentence for charges of this magnitude. The prosecution has not pursued charges for accusations of assault or rape.
Around 60 percent of Lebanese women have reportedly experienced incidents of sexual harassment, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) has described this issue as a “widespread problem in Lebanon.”
In December, Lebanon passed a new law criminalising harassment, defining it as “negative behaviour of a sexual nature that may or may not be repeated, and targets victims of all genders.” The law also includes pressuring people to perform sexual acts against their will.
Under this new law, harassers face a minimum jail sentence of one month and a maximum of up to four years in prison, and repeat offenders face terms double the length of their previous sentence.