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New study sounds alarm over sexual harassment in Burj al-Barajneh
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BEIRUT: A new study released this week brings to light instances of sexual harassment targeting children of Palestinian refugee camps and calls for the intensification of security efforts in a bid to combat predators. According to Dr. Aziza Khalidi, board member of Najdeh Association, a nonprofit organization that works with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, children are most often the target of harassment “as they are the most fragile,” based on a survey conducted at the Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

Khalidi also said that due to the camp’s overpopulation and its increasing level of poverty, streets and alleyways have grown narrower, which makes it easier for predators to sexually harass children without being noticed.

Most cases occur in such narrow spaces, common in the camp, and in broad daylight, many of them close to the victim’s residence, according to the survey.

The organization launched its campaign “Keep your hand in mine, not on mine: You and I can stop harassment” this week, which comes within the framework of a 16-day initiative against gender violence.

The association said the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its syndicate agencies should intensify the presence of its security committees in high risk areas in order to offer better protection for children and women.

Committees cooperating with the Lebanese government should work to eliminate drug addiction in the camp in order to prevent an increase in sexual harassment cases, it said. The organization also called for better street lighting to protect potential victims when it’s dark.

According to a survey of beneficiaries of the association conducted between 2007 and 2010 in Burj al-Barajneh, 7 out of 116 women respondents had been victims of harassment, and 33 out of 223 respondents reported witnessing sexual violence against women in the camp.

Four out of six women who had been harassed stated that they were too afraid to move around most of the neighborhoods in the camp, the survey reported.

Nearly 91 percent of the respondents regarded sexual harassment as an ethical issue, and 97 percent supported its criminalization.

According to the surveyed individuals, some of the key factors that lead to the harassment were alcohol and drug addiction; electricity cuts, which force people to spend time on the street; disabilities; and an appealing physical appearance.

The association also aired a documentary on harassment at the Burj al-Barajneh camp whereby women and men recalled personal stories in an effort to raise awareness against sexual violence.

Most of the victims said the harassment had occurred when they were children, while parents and neighbors said the sexual violence they had witnessed targeted minors.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 05, 2013, on page 4.
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