Below is the anonymised testimony from a domestic worker who came to Lebanon to work for a man named Emile Bou Farah in 2010. Her account details the sexual harassment she says she faced, and the physical abuse she witnessed at the Saliba Agency which employs domestic workers. She says that Emile Bou Farah preyed on her, made unwanted advances and sexually harassed her. Furthermore, she alleges that she worked 16 hour days and was only allowed to eat once a day.
Victim desires to remain anonymous
Slaveholders and sexual predators
She was returned to her employment agency, where she was verbally abused and witnessed other domestic workers being physically abused. She was then hired by Nadimeh El Murr and her husband Elias El Murr. At their home too, she says she faced sexual harassment from Elias El Murr, had no days off and was not allowed a Lebanese SIM card.
When she confronted her employers, Nadimeh El Murr told her she had to pay $2,500 and that she would then take her back to the agency. Nadimeh threatened to have her jailed if she told her agency about the harassment. She ran away from her employers shortly after, remaining undocumented in Lebanon and working illegally until she left the country in 2016.
“Good morning This Is Lebanon page! I was once a victim of abuse as a domestic helper in Lebanon. I am not very fluent in English so please arrange my story before you publish it.
One day when I was ironing the clothes he came to me and talk about dirty things like sex and told me not to tell the madam that he’s talking to me like that.
And I said yes sir because I was really afraid. So I told my Filipina neighbor everything and asked her what I should do. She told me that I could still change my employer since I don’t have a work permit or iqama (residence permit) yet. So I asked the madam to bring me back to the agency because I don’t like to work with them anymore. At first the madam refused to take me to the agency. She said that she likes me and the kids like me too. But I insisted not only because of her husband but also because I work from 5:30am till 10 at night. And eat once a day!
So after two days of crying she finally brought me to the agency, which was owned by the Saliba family. The sister of Joseph Saliba, Dalida Saliba, shouted at me. But I couldn’t do anything, just cry. So I stayed in the agency for about a week with three other domestic workers who also went back to that agency. They gave us food once a day which was one bread and 2 picon cheese each.
After a few days there was a Nepali lady that came back to that agency also. Joseph Saliba slapped her and kicked her in front of us because she didn’t know how to speak English or Arabic. And when Joseph asked her she couldn’t answer all the questions.
But let’s go back to my story, after a week of waiting at last there was one madam who interviewed me and asked me if I was willing to work with them. I said yes, so I went with her to their house which is in Elissar. Her name is Nadimeh El Murr and her husband Elias El Murr. They have 3 children. The kids were nice and the madam too and the sir was nice for the first few months. I did all the household chores except cooking. But I was not allowed to have a day off and not allowed to have a Lebanese Sim card. I only call home once a month for 15 minutes. One day when my madam was not at home, sir come home from his work for lunch. He started to ask me how many children I have and how is my husband. I said I have two kids and I am separated from my husband.
After that happened he was always asking me to make love to him, but of course I didn’t agree and he was harassing me physically but I talked to him pleasantly and pretended to agree with him but later on, not at that time, but deep inside me I wanted to disappear from that house as soon as possible but I didn’t have any idea how.
The next day sir wanted to give me a sex toy (vibrator) telling me that if I didn’t want to make love with him I could use that but I laughed at him and he asked why you are laughing, you are like a baby! I said sir, I’m laughing at you coz I just can’t believe that a very educated man, an engineer like you, would talk to me this way. Why sir? You have a beautiful wife and wonderful children. How could you do this to them? He said it is normal for everybody! I said no, it’s not normal sir. It is normal if I am your wife but I’m not. From that day I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t have the number of Saliba agency and if I call them I don’t think they will help me.
My sir told me not to tell anybody, especially madam. If I do that he will send me directly home. But I thought it is better for me to go home than to stay in that house so I decided to tell everything to his wife. I talked to my madam sincerely and told her everything that her husband was doing. But she got angry. She refused to believe me. She said that I am a liar and her husband would not do something like that. But I insisted I told the truth. She told me that I had to pay her $2,500 and she would take me back to the agency. She said she would take me to the jail if I tell the agency because the husband of her sister is a major in police. Or I could just shut my mouth and finish my two years and go home.
I thought that if I insist on the truth, I can’t do anything because I am only a stranger in Lebanon and I don’t know anybody. If they accuse me of stealing something and put me in jail even though I’m innocent I can’t do anything because they have a family member in the police so it is very easy for them.
So I pretended to agree and said ok, I will finish my contract and go back to my country. But they didn’t know that I already made up my mind to find my passport and leave that house as soon as possible. My madam said that she didn’t confront her husband coz he might get very angry with me and maybe he would beat me. I didn’t reply. I only said whatever you want madam but don’t call me a liar coz God knows that I am telling the truth.
So I didn’t stop searching where they put my passport and I always prayed to God to help me find it and help me get away from that place. And he never disappointed me. One day while I was cleaning my madam’s closet I found my passport. That week I kept on praying and asking God a sign if He agrees to what I wanted to do. If He’s with me on my decision of leaving that house, I ask for no rain in that week but if He’s not it will rain. No rain came for the whole week so I decided to run away and I took my passport with me.
I only had 13,000 ($8.5) lira in my pocket because they were not giving my salary in my hand. They sent it directly to my family.
I walked on the street without knowing where to go. But thank God there was a domestic worker on the street and I asked her to help me. She helped me and told me that she was a run away too and was working part time or per hour cleaning in different places. She took me to her room where she rented and let me stay with her and gave me some of her work too so that I could earn money to send to my family back home. That was 2011. I stayed in El Murr house almost one year.
After I left their house I worked and lived undocumented in Lebanon until I left in 2016.
Despite my bad experiences I can’t say that all Lebanese are bad. There are Lebanese who have a good heart too, like those madams who accepted me to work in their homes even though they knew that I was illegal.