Domestic violence accounts for around half of all reported cases of physical abuse in Lebanon, according to a report released Tuesday.
The “Women's complaints between the Penal Code and the Protection Law,” study was conducted by KAFA (Enough Violence and Discrimination) in the Mount Lebanon region during 2009 and 2010.
It found that out of 473 complaints lodged during this period, 352 were related to abuse, including seven cases of attempted murder. Out of these reports, 188 were filed for domestic violence, which is mostly perpetrated against females by relatives and close family friends, and includes instances of beating, kidnapping, sexual assault and child abuse.
However, very few of these complaints are ever followed up, with only 12 of the accused actually being arrested or detained, and only three being held for a period longer than eight hours, the study said.
“We used to say that women didn't complain but they are breaking the cycle of silence and they are getting nothing in return,” study author Marie Rose Zalzal told The Daily Star.
The majority of the perpetrators – accounting for 87 out of an obtained 115 cases files – were forced to sign a document expressing intent not to recommit their crime. But with the statements amounting to little more than professions such as, “I will not hit her again if she doesn't give me a reason,” the level of protection is deemed to be extremely low, the report said.
The study is part of KAFA's long-term campaign, calling for the introduction of legislation, explicitly prohibiting domestic violence.
At present, violations conducted within the home, are largely seen as private matters outside of the state's jurisdiction. Additionally, conservative religious authorities have defended the practice on religious grounds, claiming it is sometimes condoned by religious teachings.
Activists, however, deny this, maintaining that protection is a vital human right and criticizing the existing guidelines for being convoluted and unjust.
Under existing rules, women must first provide proof that violence is being perpetrated against them or her children, either by obtaining witness testimony or medical records, and then clearly establish that abuse has been inflicted by a specific individual.
This is very difficult and is made harder by the lack of support provided to the few who succeed in getting the state on their side, activists explained.
The proposed legal overhaul, which received ministerial approval in April 2010, now appears stalled in committee stage, would eradicate the worst of the abuses by easing the burden of proof and also making it a duty, punishable by law, to report acts of violence, while forcing authorities to fund shelters and reimburse medical costs for victims.
Activists, however, are fearful that the original draft will be watered down or shelved by the new government, critiqued for having a male-only lineup and being insensitive to women's issues.
“In Lebanon, even despite strong stigma and social and structural barriers to reporting, one in three women have reported being subjected to incidents of harassment, abuse, severe verbal abuse or physical or psychological harm,” said Shombi Sharp, U.N. Development Program (UNDP) Lebanon deputy country director.
UNDP, a cosponsor of Tuesday's report, estimates that up to 70 percent of women globally will experience physical or sexual violence at least once in their life.