As primary caregivers, women are disproportionately affected by extortion. As the family members more likely to accompany a child to school or relative to hospital, they’re more likely to face demands for illegal payments.
But extortion isn’t only about money.
For some women – and men – accessing basic rights and services means dealing with sexual harassment, or even consenting to sexual demands.
All too often, this kind of corruption goes unreported. Out of shame, fear or resignation, many of those who face sexual extortion stay silent about their experiences. But not all of them.
Hoda Sankari, from Tripoli in northern Lebanon, called our legal advice centre in 2014. She said that she had faced verbal and physical sexual harassment from her regional governor while applying for a renewal to her employment contract.
Hoda, who worked as a lab technician, told us she initially fled the scene when the official made repeated sexual advances. She tried to find other officials who could provide the necessary signature to renew her employment, but they all referred her back to the governor’s office.
With no other option, she had returned. On this visit, however, she brought her mobile phone, concealed in her bag, to film the encounter. Hoda captured her conversation with the official for more than 20 minutes.
In the footage, she asks the governor why he has not renewed her contract. He answers, “Because I’m not seeing you,” and “I asked to see you, but you didn’t come”. He later tells her, “when I like a girl I prefer the easy way ... the easier the better.”
Hoda kept silent about the video for two months. Then she rang our legal advice centre. She told us she was afraid of losing her job if she revealed what had happened.
Our team helped her to submit an official complaint about the governor’s behaviour. With this underway, Hoda decided she wished to go further in breaking her silence. She coordinated with the host of a popular TV programme about corruption to release the footage online.
The story was picked up by the national press. In less than a month, the governor resigned.
“The story resonated because the experience of officials abusing their power over citizens is familiar to so many,” says Rachel from our chapter in Lebanon.
But that was not the end of Hoda’s story. The governor may have resigned, but he continues to deny the allegations against him and even attempted to file a defamation lawsuit against Hoda.
This too is familiar for those in Lebanon, says Rachel.
“This case highlights a wider problem in this country, where people who go public about cases of corruption are often sued for defamation and heavily fined, and may lose their jobs or even get beaten for drawing attention to public wrongdoing – as was the case for a news station's TV crew in November 2013. If leaders are serious about tackling corruption and sexual exploitation, they also need to protect those who speak up.”