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A 24-year-old Syrian woman became enslaved in one of the largest sex-trafficking networks ever discovered in neighboring Lebanon. She recounted her story and nine-month ordeal to The Guardian.

Rama (not her real name) left war-torn Syria on a promise of a restaurant job in Lebanon, at a wage of $1,000 a month. She was smuggled into Lebanon but then beaten until she surrendered to becoming a prostitute, a tactic apparently used on many women. 

The Guardian Reports: 

Rama said she learned from the other women at the shelter that that was how many of them were brought to the house, some living there for four years. Their torture often consisted of being tied to a table that was set up like a crucifix, and beaten with a cable. If they fainted, they were shocked into consciousness with an electric prod.

The women, 29 of whom lived in Chez Maurice with the others in a nearby house, were forced to have sex as many as 10 times a day on weekdays. Rama said the number of customers often doubled on weekends. 

She said women who had not yet lost their virginity when they arrived at the shelter had their hymens broken with a bottle.

Those who said no to customer requests, including for unprotected sex, had marks registered under their names by the female guards in the house, and would be punished with beatings. They had to collect at least $50 in tips from customers a day, and that money – as well as the hourly rate the brothel charged — was all confiscated from the women.

Rama said the women told each other in hushed tones the story of two other women who died in the house, and were buried in unmarked graves before she arrived. When [Imad al-] Rihawi, the network’s alleged enforcer [and a former interrogator in Syria’s feared air force intelligence service], heard them discussing the tale, he beat one of the women 95 times on her legs with a cable, she said.

She said the women who got pregnant after having unprotected sex with customers were taken to have abortions, which are illegal in Lebanon, often months into the actual pregnancy. Police officials have arrested the doctor responsible, who operated a clinic in the northern Beirut suburb of Dekwaneh, where investigators say he performed as many as 200 abortions on women enslaved in the network.

The women worked in two shifts between 9am and 6am the following day. Many had lost family members in war, or otherwise had nobody to look after them, Rama said. Some of the girls were as young as 18 and the oldest were in their mid-30s.

On a day when the brothel was closed for business, Rama and four other women wrestled with one of the guards and escaped. The network that enslaved Rama had run for four years and enslaved 75 Syrian women. The women who came in were sometimes sold for less than $2,000, and one woman was sold by her husband for $4,500.

The case has sparked a conversation over Lebanon’s penal code on prostitution. There have been no sex-trafficking convictions since late 2011, and the laws in place have not adequately protected women. With over a million refugees already having fled to Lebanon because of the war in Syria, many believe the Lebanese government needs to make a greater effort to stop the country’s rise in Syrian child workers, prostitution and sex trafficking.

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— Posted by Donald Kaufman.  

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