Wael: “This is my misery. I could not report my rapist.”
I wonder how other people try to determine your gender identity and sexual orientation. I am neither aware of how people think of nor of what they say about me whether in my surroundings or at the workplace. However, I knew I was different than other boys which made people look at me differently.
I cannot deny I cared about my physical appearance, and I worked on improving what I did not like. However, I did not realize what people were seeing, and I did not notice that some of them understood I was homosexual. I felt good about myself because I had a secret no one else knew about. I did not anticipate I will be harassed and assaulted at the workplace time and time again. Because I am homosexual, I am suffering, and my rights are continuously violated.
Due to the war in my home country, I fled my hometown when I was young. It was easy for me to decide where to go because a large part of my family, including my sister, was living in Lebanon. I was very sad especially that I had ended a romantic relationship with a relative.
I was in need of money and was the sole provider for the family after my father left us and married another woman. Therefore, it was difficult for me to attend school during the day and work during the night even though I tried. That is why I chose to get a job.
After trying my luck at a few jobs, I landed a job in a snack shop located between Beirut and Damascus. At age 15, I was a legal resident in Lebanon. I was paid 450,000 Lebanese Lira a month which was enough to provide my family with the necessities. What’s more, the owner of the snack shop even allowed me to stay in a room annexed to the snack shop where all the Syrian workers resided. It was in that room where I was harassed for the first time by a co-worker. He watched me all the time and waited for me to finish my shift to follow me. He waited until we were alone in the room and seized every opportunity to harass me and convince me to have a relation with him. I tried many times to stop him, but he wouldn’t stop. I refused and resisted every time to a point that once I even used a knife to scare him away.
For days, I was afraid my co-workers would find out about the incident especially that my secret was revealed due to my physical appearance and behavior which I could not hide because they are a part of who I am. I could not imagine how my co-workers and my employer would react if they knew that the harasser was also a colleague of mine.
After a year, my mother and siblings followed me to Lebanon. I rented a small room far from the room I shared with my co-workers, and we lived together. However, the owner of the snack shop provided transportation services to all his workers, which made it easy for me to commute between work and home.
One night, the car broke down. My shift had ended at 12 midnight, so I had to follow the advice of my employer and walk a long distance to find a car that would pick me up.
As I stood at one of the turns, a car approached me and stopped. The driver was such a nice man in his forties. He asked me, “Where are you going, son?” I replied I was going back home after work, so he suggested to give me a lift. No sooner had I stepped into the car than he drove into a side road. I was terrified! So, I asked him to stop the car, but he tried to calm me down and reassure me that he was going to drop something off for a friend and then continue his way. I objected and insisted he drop me off, and I tried to open the door. He then locked it. There was no way out for me. I was his prisoner.
Many times, I tried to open the door in vain. I even tried to use my phone to call one of my relatives or my employer, but he took it from me and kept on driving until he reached a deserted plot of land. No words could describe the “fear” or “terror” I experienced. I was so frightened that I started crying and begging him to leave me alone. I told him I was sick, and I could faint any moment because of fear. Unfortunately, he did not want to hear a word I was saying. His disgusting desire prevailed. The more I cried and shouted, the more aggressive and insistent he became. He then ripped my clothes off and raped me. After he finished, he opened the door and threw me out.
I don’t know how I got the strength to grab my phone and his before getting out of the car. Then I started running under the heavy rain in the muddy field. I heard him threatening me to bring back his phone.
I ran and ran under the rain and when I arrived home, I was in a desperate state. As soon as I spotted my mother, I began crying. I cried my heart out; thus, she was not able to understand what I was saying. I showered and calmed down a bit. I even tried to sleep, but the smell of that man would consistently wake me up. The next day, I recounted my mother the terrifying ordeal I endured, and I called my employer and informed him I was unable to go to work because I was not feeling well.
I crouched in the corner of the room for four days unable to eat or speak to anyone. My mother who was devastated would try to convince me with her caring and tender words to eat just one bite, but many times she failed.
On the fourth day, my employer called to check on me. I told him what happened that awful night and that I was willing to file a complaint against the aggressor in the police department of the area. He promised that he would take me himself, and indeed he did.
At the police department, we met the officer in charge who listened to my detailed story. I then handed him the phone of the man and while they were checking it, they found out who the man was and summoned him. In no time, he was there. The officer and my employer both greeted him warmly. They knew each other. They asked me to wait outside until the officer is done with the investigation. My employer followed me and started talking about the rapist. He said he was a powerful man, so it was not in my best interest to file a complaint against him. He tried to play the father role and give me advice. He touched upon my weakest point and he reminded me that I have not renewed my residency papers yet, so that would lead to another investigation, which may jeopardize my stay in Lebanon. I tried hard to explain that the reason behind not renewing my papers was the cost. Hence, if I had renewed them, my family and I would have been penniless for a whole month. We would have starved. Still, he laughed, tried to calm me down, and strongly advised me to waive the complaint. Forcibly, I acted upon his advice.
On his way out of the police department, the rapist shamelessly approached me laughing and was surprised why I took the whole thing so seriously. He even told me that being homosexual, I should have enjoyed it that night. I was infuriated! How could he talk to me this way? The day was over; he came out on top and went on living his life as if nothing happened while I went back home and to work defeated, violated, and helpless. How could such people run away with their dirty deeds?
Is this how the dignity of people is upheld? Is this how rights are respected? I am in no way able to protect myself any longer even at the workplace. I am threatened because the aggressor is a powerful man. What will happen if my employer found out that the first person who harassed me is his worker? I will definitely be fired. How will I live safely and peacefully in a place where I am threatened every day of being harassed, insulted or even fired? Who will I turn to if I am violated in the workplace? Obviously, no one cares. They will do whatever they want because they know they will always win at the end especially that I am homosexual who has no rights whatsoever.
Ever since that dreadful night, I have been living in isolation. I no longer trust anyone. I am living my life on the margin, and I cannot express myself. I am hiding my secret from my family. Add to that, I am totally uncomfortable at work because I am always afraid that my sexual identity would be discovered which would result in losing my job. Finally, yes, I did not divulge the harassment incident, but what if it happens again? What do I do? How do I defend myself? Who do I turn to? These are questions that haunt me day and night. Is this the life someone would wish to live?
This story was documented as part of the “Enhancing the Inclusivity of the LGBTI community in Workplaces in Lebanon” project funded by the European Union and executed by SIDC in partnership with ACTED.