Eleanore Couture Runs a House of Horror #IAmLensa

Lensa reveals all about Eleanore Couture’s abuse and enslavement of migrant domestic workers in order to make their dresses. This story goes far beyond dresses.

THE DOCUMENTARY

See Lensa tell the story of the abuse by Eleanore Couture from her hometown in Ethiopia.

THE STORY

“They smashed my head into the walls. Every hour there was some form of torture.”

Lensa Lelisa Tufa arrived in Lebanon from Ethiopia in July 2017 to work for Eleanore Ajami, a high-end fashion designer and owner of Eleanore Couture. The brand is known internationally, and its dresses have been worn by a host of high-profile celebrities, including singer Carrie Underwood and X-Men star Lana Condor.


As she states in multiple testimonies, 21-year old Lensa was abused from the very beginning of her time in Lebanon. She says she was beaten up daily by her employers who threatened that if she didn’t finish her work quickly enough, she would be beaten further.


Lensa says: “They beat me every day with an electric cable and wrapped my hair around their hands and dragged me around the room. They smashed my head into the walls. Every hour there was some form of torture.”

“As long as you are in my country, I can do what ever I want to you” – Eleanore Couture

Upon arrival, Lensa says that she spoke to her family once and then wasn’t allowed to contact them for 4 months. Her employer, Eleanore Ajami, told Lensa after six months that she had sent her salary directly to her family in Ethiopia, although she never showed her any proof of this. And because Lensa wasn’t allowed to contact her family, there was no way to verify what Eleanore was saying.

In the six months following her arrival in Lebanon, Lensa’s aunt, Ganet, who also worked in Beirut, tried to contact her via Eleanor Ajami. But each time Ganet called, Eleanore told her Lensa was too busy to talk, and not to call again. Ganet meanwhile received a call from Lensa’s mother in Ethiopia, saying she hadn’t received any money or heard any news from Lensa.

Lensa and the Khalils

FAMILY OF ABUSERS

The entire family were involved in the abuse of Lensa. Many people didn’t believe it because the abuser children were “educated young women.”

Crystal Khalil, Manager at Eleanore Couture's Sweat Shop
Alexis Khalil Co-Owner of Eleanore Couture's Haute Fashion House of Horror
Eleanore Ajami, Referred to
Joe Khalil of Eleanore Couture, Lensa Abuser
Lensa After Eleanore Couture's House of Horror

Domestic Worker Abuse: A Family Affair

Lensa alleges that 4 family members abused her: Eleanore Ajami, her son Joe Khalil, and daughters Crystel Khalil and Alexis Khalil. “They took turns abusing us. In the morning Joe came, grabbed my hair and dragged me around the room. And he was pushing his fingers into my eyes. He got the scissors and was going to attack me, so I ran away from him. Every day, Crystel came after me with the scissors and tried to cut me. Her mother told her not to do that, so she stopped.”


Lensa explains that she couldn’t tell the Ethiopian Embassy about her situation because the other Ethiopian worker would tell the employer everything. That worker had been there for about 5 years and acted as an informer on Lensa and another young Ethiopian worker.


On 11 March 2018, Lensa decided to try to escape from the second-floor apartment. Her only choice was to jump off the balcony because her employers locked her into the apartment whilst they were out. She broke both legs, her pelvis, her jaw and several teeth upon impact, and was taken to Serhal Hospital where she remained for two weeks.

“They tortured me, and I couldn’t do anything to save myself.” – Lensa

Even during her time in hospital, Lensa’s communication and visitors were strictly controlled by her employers. This Is Lebanon was told by Lensa’s aunt, Ganet: “Whilst in hospital, a Lebanese woman had compassion for Lensa and brought her juice. But this led to a problem with the employers, who told the Lebanese woman not to interfere, and that she had no business giving anything to Lensa.” The woman withdrew from any contact with Lensa and asked an Ethiopian girl caring for an elderly man in the hospital to contact Lensa. Lensa managed to give the Ethiopian girl her mother’s number, who then contacted Lensa’s aunt, Ganet, on 19 March. Ganet went straight to the hospital upon hearing what had happened. Here she filmed Lensa talking about her abuse and suffering.

“The old lady filmed it on her phone for Alexis to watch on video call.” – Lensa

The Attempted Media Cover-up Begins

The video of Lensa lying in her hospital bed, covered in bandages and casts, was shared by This Is Lebanon and went viral, being picked up by international news outlets. Her aunt was allowed one closely supervised visit after her return to the house, during which members of the family were present.


Eleanore Ajami immediately responded to the media denying all allegations, and threatened to sue This Is Lebanon. On 31 March 2018, Eleanore Couture released a video of Lensa through local channel LBC. In the video, filmed in her employers’ home, Lensa retracted her earlier claims of abuse. Lensa said she loved her employers and they loved her, and that she was sorry for any problems she had caused them. She said: “Nobody hurt me, nobody kicked me.” She again recanted her allegations on Rima Karaki’s show on Al Jadeed Television in April. In a humiliating set up in the presence of one of her employers, she was wheeled in on a hospital gurney to make a similar confession.


The deputy Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, Lama Fakih, has said that in cases like Lensa’s there is a high risk of coercion, and investigations must ensure that victims can give accurate accounts of what has happened to them, in a safe location, without fear of retaliation.


“We are deeply concerned that even though Lensa said she feared retaliation and has reported death threats, investigators said they did not provide safety guarantees when they interviewed her,” Fakih has said. “Ensuring victim protection is essential for determining what happened in Lelisa’s case, and to reassure other domestic workers afraid of retaliation if they report abuse.”

A Phony Investigation

The Lebanese Internal Security Forces told Human Rights Watch that they had completed an investigation after speaking with Lensa, another migrant domestic worker in the house, the employers, two forensic doctors, and the Ethiopian Embassy, and sent their report to the prosecutor’s office. However, the Internal Security Forces said they had not provided Lensa with any guarantee of safety or protection to ensure that she was able to speak freely. “It’s the job of the embassy to provide reassurances or guarantees,” an official said.

Human Rights Watch has previously found that Lebanon’s judiciary fails to hold employers accountable for abuses and that security agencies often do not adequately investigate claims of violence or abuse. Two Ethiopian women who visited Lensa at the hospital told Human Rights Watch that Lensa said she did not tell investigators the truth because of her fear of retaliation.


An Ethiopian embassy official told Human Rights Watch it had investigated the case and concluded Lensa fell out of the apartment while cleaning, and that the abuse allegations were not true. Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security, the agency in charge of foreigners’ entry and residency in Lebanon, also opened an investigation. It is up to the Prosecutor to decide whether to continue the investigation or file charges.

Eleanore Couture did their best to hide the story by taking out injunctions against This Is Lebanon and the other news outlets who shared Lensa’s story with the world and exposed the designers’ human rights abuses.

Due to the pressure from This Is Lebanon, the support of other activists, and the attention of Lebanese and international media outlets, Eleanore Couture sent Lensa home on 2 August 2018. She still has rods in her legs and requires ongoing medical treatment but cannot afford it. She did, however, manage to make it home alive, unlike the two domestic workers per week that are dying.

#IAmLensa #ThisIsLebanon #2PerWeek #AbolishKafala

THE TIMELINE

March 8 2016

Eleanore Couture and Crystel Khalil post on their Facebook timeline: “‘I am eternally grateful to the women before me, who fought for my rights’ #internationalwomensday #womansright #womensempowerment #HeresToEqualityForWomensWorldWide #onedayiwill #eleanorecouture”

Eleanore Couture are Faux Feminists, Abusers and Enslavers Running a Sweat Shop

July 2017

Lensa begins work for the Ajami-Khalil family. She calls home once, and then her family doesn’t hear from her. She doesn’t remit any money home. She says she is physically, verbally and emotionally abused by the family. She is beaten with an electric cable, her head is smashed into walls and she is dragged by her hair. She isn’t allowed out of the house.

August – March 2018

Lensa’s aunt, Ganet, also working in Beirut as a domestic helper, tries to contact Lensa. She is repeatedly told by Eleanore Ajami that Lensa is ‘too busy’ to talk. Lensa is able to occasionally call her mother during this time, but the conversation is always closely monitored and cut. Her mother is very suspicious and tries to ask Lensa about her situation, but Lensa cannot speak freely out of fear of her abusers.

Eleanore Couture's Sweat Shop

20 February 2018

Eleanore Couture remits $291 as a result of pressure from Lensa’s employment agency.

Eleanore Couture's Payment to Lensa

11 March 2018

Lensa decides to escape after Joe Khalil threatens her for not working quickly enough. Her co-worker, Bortokan, also plans to escape, but abandons this plan after Lensa jumps and breaks both legs, her pelvis, some teeth and her jaw. Lensa is immediately sent to Serhal Hospital.

Lensa After Eleanore Couture's House of Horror

12 – 19 March 2018

A Lebanese woman notices Lensa and connects her with an Ethiopian who is in the hospital. Lensa gives the Ethiopian her mother’s phone number. She calls and the mother gives her Ganet’s number.

Lensa's Mother Who Pleads for Her Daughter to be Released From Eleanore Couture's Abuse

19 March 2018

When Ganet hears about her niece, she goes to the hospital with other Ethiopians. She is subsequently barred from visiting. After seeing Lensa in the hospital, Ganet contacts the Ethiopian embassy for help.

Lensa's Aunt Ganet Fights Hard to Free Her Daughter From Eleanore Couture

Weekend of March 23

The Ethiopian Embassy visits Lensa and Internal Security comes to investigate on orders of Appellate Public Prosecutor in Mount Lebanon, Judge Sami Sader. Ganet is finally able to secretly visit Lensa in the hospital. The hospital room door is guarded on nearly a 24 hour watch by the Ajami family, but Ganet sneaks in between their shifts in the middle of the night. They film a secret testimony.

Serhal Hospital Guarded by Eleanore Couture to Keep Lensa's Story Hidden

25 March 2018

Ganet has nearly lost hope. Caritas, the forensic doctors, the Ethiopian embassy, and the Internal Security Forces all declare that there was no abuse. In desperation, Ganet contacts This Is Lebanon and shares the video of Lensa’s testimony of abuse. This Is Lebanon puts it on Facebook and it is viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.

27 March 2018

Lensa returns to her employers’ home after doctors sign her out advising a month’s rest. Shortly after, her co-worker Bortokan is deported back to Ethiopia. To this date, no one has been able to contact Bortokan.

Unknown Migrant Domestic Worker Under Lebanese Kafala

29 March 2018

People around the world support the #IAmLensa campaign. Meanwhile, brave activists gather in front of Eleanore Couture’s business to protest the abuses of the Kafala system and show solidarity with Lensa.

31 March 2018

Eleanore Couture releases a video through LBC TV, filmed in their own home, in which Lensa says her employers love her and she loves them, and that she was not abused. Khalil assures viewers there was never any violence committed against Lensa.

2 April 2018

Lensa and Crystel Khalil appear on Rima Karaki’s show on Al Jadeed Television. Lensa is wheeled in on a hospital gurney, makes a confession saying she lied about the abuse, and about jumping off the balcony to escape. Rima claims that she will follow-up with Lensa to ensure she is okay. That never happened. She assures her viewers Lensa will be safe. Prior to the filming of this show, This Is Lebanon presents Al Jadeed with a testimony from Lensa’s family affirming the abuse. Lensa is not given equal representation on the show nor is she offered an interpreter. Her live presence in a hospital bed is humiliating and dehumanising. Meanwhile, she is in fear for her life and the lives of family members in Lebanon and in Ethiopia.

3 April 2018

This Is Lebanon publishes Ganet’s testimony about Lensa’s treatment at Eleanore Couture. She confirms: “They [Eleanore Couture] are lying…they are threatening her.”

4 April 2018

Eleanore Couture remits a further $450 to Lensa’s family. This is contrary to General Security’s report that “[Lensa] has been living in her sponsor’s house for the past seven months, receives her monthly stipend and has not been a victim of ill-treatment.” This brings it to a total of $741 for 9 months’ work, averaging a salary of $82.30 per month.

Second Payment to Lensa by Eleanore Couture for Dress Sweat Shop

5 April 2018

Many fake Facebook profiles begin making a flurry of negative comments on the This Is Lebanon’s Facebook page and in defense of Eleanore Couture. They claim to not be members of the family, but concerned Lebanese citizens.

Eleanore Couture Creates Fake Facebook Accounts to Spread Lies

Mid-April 2018

The Ajami-Khalil family attempt a variety of other ways to make the story disappear. Leneila Khalil (sister-in-law living in Australia), who previously ran the social media of Eleanore Couture, promotes a theory that “[Lensa] tried to jump because she didn’t want to work as a maid any more.” She also promotes another story that Eleanore Couture would fly Lensa back home on 12 May 2018, when she was expected to be “medically fit.”

Leneila Khalil Has Interesting Theory on Lensa's Abuse

12 April 2018

Lensa is assigned Eleanore Ajami’s own attorney, Elias Ghanem, against her will. She is forced to sign legal documents and go to police stations denying any abuse ever happened. The office of attorneys-at-law, Elias Ghanem, Reine Atallah and Pauline Naddaf, file a petition to the Baabda judiciary to have the material about Lensa and Eleanore Couture removed from all places on the web, including Human Rights Watch, Legal Agenda, L’ Orient Le Jour and many more.

Elias Ghanem and Other Fraudulent Attorneys-at-law

17 April 2018

Lensa’s mother makes a desperate plea for Eleanore Couture to send Lensa home. She says: “Her employer had told her that all we want is money, and that she would kill her and send her corpse back home.”

20 April 2018

Lebanese state closes inquiry into Lensa’s case, concluding that Lensa is not a victim of abuse.

Internal Security Forces Blindly Find No Evidence that Eleanore Couture Abused Lensa

15 May 2018

Christelle Hanna Khalil (Crystel Khalil) and Alexis Hanna Khalil lodge a complaint to the General Prosecutor at the Supreme Court in Lebanon against thisislebanon.org.

Lebanon Supreme Court Prosecutor's Erroneous Interpol Request on Behalf of Eleanore Couture

5 June 2018

The Ajamis-Khalils commit a string of perjuries by making false reports under the name of their own victim (Lensa) through the U.S. DMCA law in order to remove the video content of Lensa’s testimony. They take actions such as creating false email addresses and social media accounts in Lensa’s name to make their requests appear more legitimate. In one of the earlier requests, they accidentally put Crystel Khalil’s own phone number (+9613999172).

June 2018

Timo Azhari, The Daily Star journalist, is summoned by the Lebanese Cyber Crimes Bureau and spends 8 hours there. His phone is searched, confidential information from an anonymous source is seized, and he is made to delete his tweets. He is asked to sign a pledge not to speak about the case again, but refuses.

Timo Taken to Court for Speaking Against Eleanore Couture

19 June 2018

Judge Hatoum of the Baabda district court grants the request for removal of all photos, videos or comments relating to Lensa’s employers’ treatment of her on all social media, websites and news channels in Lebanon and abroad, on the grounds that “her reputation and her personal dignity and exceeding the limits of transferring news impartially.”

The Dishonorable Judge Hatoum

2 July 2018

Director-General of the Internal Security Forces, Major General Imad Osman, sends a request to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police via Interpol regarding a defamation case. He asks for the Canadian police to “interrogate the owner…for defamation” and to “take a pledge that he would not attack the plaintiffs again by any means.”

Major General Imad Osman Demand for Interrogation

28 July 2018

Under pressure, Rima Karaki makes a public statement regarding her show with Lensa. She has still not visited Lensa. In her defense she claims: “We were the most human and caring show that helped people on and off air without bragging about it.”

Rima Karaki Brags About Not Bragging to Cover for Eleanore Couture

Week of 30 July 2018

Lensa’s aunt, Ganet, goes to the Ethiopian Embassy and fights for Lensa to be freed. The Ethiopian community pressures the embassy to force Eleanore Couture to bring Lensa into the embassy so Ganet can speak to her.

The Ethiopian Embassy Rejected Lensa

2 August 2018

In the middle of the night, Eleanore Couture puts Lensa on a plane back to Ethiopia. Lensa’s family is notified so late that Lensa’s mother is not able to make it to the airport in time to meet her daughter. Eleanore Couture sends Lensa home with the rest of her salary in an attempt to wipe their hands clean of the event.

Eleanore Couture Tries to Wipe Their Hands Clean in the Middle of the Night

August – October 2018

Lensa is home but she is afraid to talk about what happened due to threats against her family by Eleanore Couture. Before she leaves, they tell Lensa that if she says anything that could ruin their reputation, they will have her family in Ethiopia arrested and Ganet will be arrested in Lebanon and bad things will happen to her.

Lensa is Still Fearfull of Eleanore Couture's Wrath in Ethiopia

11 November 2018

Timo Azhari, journalist at The Daily Star, goes to court for charges of defamation filed against him by Prosecutor Rami Abdallah regarding Eleanore Couture.

20

April 2019

Lensa signs an affidavit stating the following:

  1. I was enslaved by Eleanore Ajami and Crystel Khalil, hereafter referred to as Eleanore Couture, and forced to act against my will.
  2. Eleanore Couture created fake email accounts and social media profiles using my name, pictures and personal information.
Lensa Confirms Her Slavery in Eleanore Couture's Sweat Shop for Fashion Dresses

25 May 2019

This Is Lebanon breaks silence on Lensa’s release and announces the upcoming release of a documentary. This information has not been released earlier due to security and legal concerns.

This Is Lebanon Breaks the Silence on Eleanore Couture's Abuse of Lensa

30 May 2019

This Is Lebanon releases a documentary about Lensa’s story from slavery to freedom.

Present

Lensa still has ongoing medical issues from her abuse and injuries sustained while working for Eleanore Couture. She is unable to pay for her medical treatment.

Lensa in Ethiopia, After Eleanore Couture's Abuse

What will Eleanore Couture do next?

Will those complicit in her abuse and enslavement continue to perpetuate their lies in order to save face?

Meet The Abusers

These are the abusers and those who looked onto Lensa’s abuse and chose to help Eleanore Couture cover it up.

“I have experienced a lot of abuse. Nobody sees me and nobody helps me.” – Lensa

Eleanore Ajami, Referred to
Eleanore Ajami

Founder and owner of Eleanore Couture. Sponsor of Lensa’s employment. Lensa testifies, “the old lady filmed it on her phone for Alexis to watch on video call.”

Crystel Khalil, Primary Abuser of Lensa at Eleanore Couture
Crystel Khalil

“Every day Crystel came after me with the scissors and tried to cut me.” Then Crystel wheeled Lensa on a stretcher into the Al Jadeed studio in order to humiliate her in a false confession.

Alexis Khalil

Alexis Khalil gave public assurances that all was good with Lensa and she was in great hands. Unfortunately the opposite was true.

Joe Khalil of Eleanore Couture, Lensa Abuser
Joe Khalil

“In the morning he came and grabbed my hair, and dragged me round the room. And he was pushing his fingers into my eyes…Every day, he was planning how to attack me.”

Australian Leneila Khalil, Assistant in Eleanore Couture Cover-up
Leneila Khalil

Far away in Melbourne, Australia, Leneila hadn’t received the family memo on what to say. Her theory was that Lensa “tried to jump because she didn’t want to work as a maid any more.”

Major General Imad Osman, Servant of Eleanore Couture
Major General Imad Osman

The Director-General of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces “received several certificates most notably being in…the fight against cyber crimes.” Evidently his job description also includes: unsuccessfully attempting to do Eleanore Couture’s bidding.

Palace of Injustice for Lensa
Judge Hatoum

The not-so-honourable Baabda district judge was happy to comply with Eleanore Couture’s request to sign a court order demanding the removal of all evidence from the public forum.

The Ethiopian Embassy Rejected Lensa
Ethiopian Embassy

Ganet hoped her embassy which is “responsible for [the] Ethiopian Diaspora who are living in Lebanon” would help Lensa. Instead, they turned their backs and spoke out siding with the abusers.

Rima Karaki is a Fraud, She Covered the Story of Lensa for Eleanore Couture
Rima Karaki

Rima brought Lensa onto her show to humiliate her on pan-Arab television. In her own defense for her actions, she made a public statement: “We were the most human and caring show that helped people on and off the air without bragging about it.”

Caritas Failed Lensa, But They Showed Their Support For Eleanore Couture
Caritas

Self described as seeking to “ensure that migrants’ rights are respected.” Unfortunately they appear to be ignorant of how to actually do this. They failed to remove her from her abusers for the interview – “Helping Domestic Workers 101.”

Internal Security Forces, Pawns of Eleanore Couture
Internal Security Forces

Claiming to aim at “countering trafficking, and honoring Lebanon’s obligations towards international resolutions” from top to bottom, they served as pawns of Eleanore Couture’s desperate attempt to hide the story.

Al Jadeed Humiliates Lensa on Pan-Arab Television for Eleanore Couture
Al Jadeed

Al Jadeed TV is one of the most watched broadcasters in Lebanon and in the entire Arab world, and despite the testimony of Lensa and her family, they decided to spend their airtime in assisting with Crystel’s cover-up campaign.

Elias Ghanem Fraud Lawyer for Lensa
Elias Ghanem

He somehow represented both Eleanore Ajami and Lensa Tufa at the same time. He kept himself very busy taking their money in order to use the courts to cover up the story.

Forensic Doctors Failed Lensa, Perpetuated Eleanore Couture's Abuse
Forensic Doctors

Forensic doctors visited Lensa in Serhal Hospital and concluded there was no evidence of abuse. This conclusion is hardly surprising given that they never find evidence of abuse when migrant domestic workers die in Lebanon.

LBC International - International Frauds When Reporting on Abuse
LBC TV

The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International, widely known as LBCI, is the first private television station in Lebanon. They were personally moved when Crystel told them that she asked Lensa: “Do we hit and abuse you?” and Lensa said “no!”

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