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Joumana Haddad

When Tatyana said yes to Abu Bilal

The story of one Ukrainian prostitute in Lebanon

super night club

“A woman with an education may be able to spend more time sitting in a chair instead of lying on her back. A sound advantage, I should think.” ― Anne Bishop

 

Last week, I dove into the murky waters of Maameltein’s night life, to meet and talk to some of the women stirring Lebanon’s thriving sex industry. I went there with no moral judgments, no ‘I pity you’ attitude, no ‘I want to save you’ pretenses. I just wanted to listen to them and report their stories. That is how I met Tatyana, in one of the numerous Super Night Clubs spread on the Keserwan coast, our very own “red light district.”

 

I didn’t go alone, obviously. I wouldn’t have been able to convince the official bouncers/undercover pimps/occasional pushers to let me in. Two male colleagues with ‘connections’ in the sector accompanied me. They were quite embarrassed to be greeted by name by most of the waiters, and asked me nicely not to share their information with their respective wives. They thought of themselves as my bodyguards. I thought of them as my admission ticket. What matters is that with them I managed to visit four different clubs, which, despite the different girls on display, looked almost exactly the same.

 

You can buy Tatyana for $400 USD a night. Don’t be offended by the word ‘buy’ – she uses it herself, in a very down-to-earth manner. “I am lucky to be worth $400 in such a competitive environment. Many of the other girls are bought for $200 or even less,” she says with a hint of… is it pride?! Yes, pride indeed. Tatyana, just like her friends Olga and Yulia, is from Ukraine. She entered Lebanon four months ago with an artist visa, an inventive scheme that the Lebanese authorities use to avoid admitting that they allow prostitution. General Security closely monitors the ‘artists.’ Their residency permits do not exceed six months, and they are deported if they are caught overstaying their permits.

 

There are 40 to 42 million prostitutes across the world, according to a report from Fondation Scelles, an organization that fights the sexual exploitation of human beings. Three-quarters of these prostitutes are between the ages of 13 and 25, and 80 percent of them are female. Four million women and girls are trafficked annually for sexual exploitation. Sixty percent of the trafficked women experience physical and/or sexual violence before being trafficked. The majority of prostitutes enter the industry by force after being raped, threatened, or kidnapped by mafias or pimps. They are constantly afraid, not just because of what might be done to them if they don't do what they're told, but also because of the very real threats that are made against their families and the people they love.

 

As for the rest, like Tatyana, they might not be directly forced, but they are indeed pushed down that road by poverty and the blind eye of governments and social institutions. Racism and the poor conditions of many immigrants is another major cause. Coercion takes many forms. So we can’t talk about ‘choice,’ with all due respect to a certain branch of liberal feminism that conceives of prostitution as a “private business transaction.” I believe this is the snobbiest and most insensitive definition I have ever heard.

 

Ukraine and Romania are now Europe’s main sources of prostitutes, eclipsing Russia in 2006. Most of the ‘artists’ in Lebanon are from these or other eastern European countries, although there are brothels that employ Iraqi, Syrian, and Moroccan girls. The manager of a brothel, who I interviewed over the phone, told me that most of his clientele is from the Gulf, and they prefer to have women who can communicate in Arabic.

 

Tatyana is tall, blond, and has flawless skin and a perfectly flat stomach. She smiles almost continuously, as if it were part of her training. She says she earns more in a month here than she would in a year in Kiev. Her next stop after Lebanon is Cypus, a country where prostitution is legal, and that is quickly becoming a world-renowned hub for the trade of young, foreign women.

 

She told me the story of how she came to work in Lebanon.

 

Tatyana was a single mom working as a waitress, struggling to raise her two year-old son after her boyfriend left when he was born. One day, a young man approached her in a bar, and asked if she’d like to make good money in a “safe and quick” way. The young man was Lebanese and studying medicine at the Kyiv Medical University. He told Tatyana that he could get her a six-month visa to work as a dancer in Lebanon. His uncle, he said, owned a cabaret there, and he was looking for new dancers for the nightly show. Tatyana accepted. Soon though, it became evident to her that she was being recruited for prostitution. “I didn’t mind. I was sleeping all the time with Ukrainian jerks that disappeared as soon as they had their way with me. So why not make some cash out of it?” Her contact in Lebanon was a man called Abu Bilal. Once she arrived to Lebanon, she only met him once. “He seemed nice and caring, he warned us about never sleeping with men without condoms and stuff like that.”

 

Whether forced directly or indirectly, sex labor is an expression of the sexual domination of women. It is one of many tools of discrimination. Yet most societies tend to punish and ostracize the victims instead of the criminals that run the game. Prostitution is a word that we urgently must replace with human trafficking or sex slavery. The romantic label of the ‘oldest profession in the world’ is nothing but a cover for one of the worst abuses of human rights in the history of humanity.  

 

Follow Joumana Haddad on Twitter @joumana333

Joumana Haddad is author of many books, among which “I Killed Scheherazade.” Her latest book, “Superman is an Arab – On God, marriage, macho men and other disastrous inventions” (Westbourne Press, London, 2012) is now available in Lebanese bookshops and on Amazon.

One of the many Super Night Clubs along the highway north of Beirut. (Image via Joumana Haddad)

"'I was sleeping all the time with Ukrainian jerks that disappeared as soon as they had their way with me. So why not make some cash out of it?'"

  • Antoinettek

    Wow what a touchy topic. I'm torn on how to feel about this issue. In some way, I do feel that sex work is the act of capitalising of the female body. Especially when the women (or male sex workers) do not have a choice. Many satisfied sex workers will say that it was their choice to enter this field to make the money. But do people really have the freedom to choose this? Or does their circumstances decide their career option? The real issue is where does the choice lie, and who exactly is given the privilege of choice. If you are mentally stable, not dependant on drugs, not needy money and you choose this career choice for reasonable reasons, then why not, it's your decision and why should anyone impede on that or judge your lifestyle. Sex workers don't only work with cheating husbands. They also work with people who have disabilities, provide comfort to the lonely and can be people of great interpersonal skills. In a perfect world, did Tatyana follow sex work to pursue a dream? Or did her poor financial circumstances choose her pathway?

    May 27, 2013

  • JamesKeane

    Wise words - both of your posts. I totally agree with you on the need for all out sexual liberty to achieve proper freedom. When sex stops becoming that big old no-go or sin in society and things become more natural, society becomes more free. The west only became properly free when women were liberated and sexual freedoms took over during the 60s. Prior to that the west was a dull racist homophobic place. When the sexual revolutions of the 60s and then the stonewall riots and LGBT movements of the 70s took place, the west changed. Look at Arab societies, its like one hell of a sexual pressure cooker. Just look at the Aliaa el Magdy saga, its all comical. And then they fill there TVs with all these psuedo-naked pop stars in what seems to be the longest running tease show of all time. Meanwhile the majority of Arab women are locked in this eternal conservative hell, forced to cover their heads and be "good wives"... But you are right, it wasn't always like that. Heck, even Tripoli had it's own RLD, in Mina and Tal. They had proper brothels and men frequented them, it was part of society. But it wasn't a big deal, because society was more liberal, women had much more freedoms than they do today. Islam wasn't at everyone's throats...

    May 22, 2013

  • Eva Khouri

    @jameskeane: LOL are u serious? Are u actually saying that nobody in the whole scene of NOW readers shares ms haddad's opinions and stands by them? And that if someone does then it has to be her in disguise? If this is the case then u r surely more delusional than I thought. And thus it is my turn to wonder if James Keane is Homo Stupidus in disguise hehe

    May 22, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    In fact, I would like to add the following: If Ms Haddad wants to end prostitution in Lebanon, she and her fellow Lebanese (and by extension Arab) women should become more promiscuous and sleep around whenever they feel like it. When sex is no longer a taboo, when every man and woman can sleep around and have girlfriends and boyfriends ad libitum, then prostitution becomes a sideshow that no one cares about. You can't have it both ways: Freedom comes at a price. Western societies understand this, and they are tolerant of anything and everything. Until we learn to accept and live with what we don;t agree with, we will continue to struggle with these ideas and make fools of ourselves, justy like Joumana Haddad occasionally does, accalaimed or otherwise.

    May 22, 2013

  • Charbel Issa

    you absolutely make no sense!!! if the solution to prostitution is promiscuity, like you say, then how come prostitution is flourishing in so many western countries where indeed women sleep around whenever they feel like it? On the other hand, any minimal knowledge of Haddad's writings would have allowed you to know that she strongly criticises abstinence and the notion of honor tied to a woman's sexual behaviour in the arab world. she has frequently written against that and against the celebration of virginity and calls for arab women to reclaim their bodies, So i don't really get your point, because she surely can't be called a hypocritical prude. But I guess that you, like so many machos out there, confuse sexual freedom with prostitution (human trafficking) and a woman showing her tits on the street (objectification of women's nudity). So immature, not to say ignorant. Time to grow up, man

    May 22, 2013

  • Michael Sawma

    you seem so frustrated Hanibaal, if I may. what's wrong? can't find a woman willing to sleep with you unless you pay her? Hehe

    May 22, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    TONY.E.SAADE - Your name doesn't inspire any trust either, nor does your profile pic by the way. Anonymity guarantees the purity of the idea, which is especially necessary in a Lebanese context because the moment you put your name, your entire social-religious-political identity becomes ASSUMED and then you become the target rather than the issue itself. This is in fact why you are dying to know who is hiding behind names like Jameskeane or Hanibaal: You can;t beat the message, so you want to beat the messenger. No one here is a superman. Joumana Haddad's "brilliant" resume notwithstanding, we need to look at how the West manages its freedoms: It does so by accepting human nature as the baseline, all of it, the good the bad and the ugly. When Ms. Haddad - in her elitist salon-like revolutionary appeals - discusses this or that topic, I cannot help but be taken back 40 years ago when the feminist movement rose in the West. It is just so stale. We've seen it all. We know what works and what doesn;t. If Haddad or any of you out there want free women in our part of the world, you're gonna have to live next door to prostitutes, male bimbos, porn... In fact, Beirut and Lebanon once were so advanced before the religious neanderthals took over and, with a few massacres and a civil war, herded us back into our morbidly conservative sectarian stables. There was a thriving red light district in downtown Beirut, right next to the Jesuit University,and it extended all the way down to Ayn El-Mraysseh. No one cared. Many of us young men went there to lose our virginity, and sailors and Arabs converged there just for that reason, and not for the ruins of Baalbeck or Byblos. The much brandished openness of Lebanese society and our thriving tourism industry are indeed indebted to 1960s downtown Beirut.

    May 22, 2013

  • JamesKeane

    I wonder if Eva Khouri is Joumana Haddad in disguise :P

    May 21, 2013

  • tony.e.saade

    @jameskeane @Hannibaal : you both have no idea who and what is Joumana Haddad. given your comments on such an acclaimed author, journalist and activist, i can only but confirm once again what Joumana has wrote in her latest book Superman is an Arab, about the blind schizophrenic male machismo. apparently in your case, superman is not only an Arab but a British - hope not as Citizen kane "Keane" was an inspiration- or Carthaginian- again i hope not as Hannibal is considered one of the greatest military commanders in history. two adjectives which do not represent you at all, same as you do not represent us at all. PS: a word of advise, next time you want to talk about freedom of expression and have an opinion, please start by putting a profile pic. To be seen is to be heard my dear friends.

    May 21, 2013

  • JamesKeane

    "next time you want to talk about freedom of expression and have an opinion, please start by putting a profile pic" just read that again out loud to yourself infront of a mirror. Seriously, just do it.

    May 21, 2013

  • JamesKeane

    @EvaKhouri, I would like to say that your over the top reaction is typical of a woman, but I seriously don't believe that, you are just falling for the sensationalist PR stunts that Haddad and her likes are so good at. I pity your delusion. Also, male escorts exist too, I don't get your point. I challenge you, do you know or have ever spoken to non-coerced sex workers? @Haniball-atheos I agree with you on the revolution from their salons argument. We do see that alot with many so called Lebanese "activists" who clearly have way too much money and time on their hands, so they sit and preach while they themselves don't do much. I don't however agree with you that Tatyana and her likes are a "price" to pay for freedom, they are a result of freedom, that they can decide to partake in sex work at will. In many ways, women who choose to do sex work willingly and trust me I know quite a fair bit of them, are actually the anti-thesis of the prostitution industry.

    May 21, 2013

  • Eva Khouri

    if you think that the number of male escorts and prostitutes is comparable to female ones then you are delusional. And what salons, money and time are u and Hanibal atheos talking about? Those things surely do not refer to ms haddad. study your argument before commenting blindly to prove your sexist point

    May 21, 2013

  • khalil.chehade.9

    Great article. Unfortunately, I believe it is impossible to eradicate prostitution. As long as there are rich persons who need sex and attractive persons who need money, prostitution will exist

    May 21, 2013

  • Eva Khouri

    @jameskeane: such a predictable reaction from a man. Somehow most men like to believe the big fat lie that women "choose" to have sex for money and that they even enjoy it. Ha. I bet u also believe those women moaning in porn movies are actually having an orgasm. So pathetic. Try sleeping with a man for money then shoot your mouth off about choice.

    May 20, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    To JAMESKEANE's point, many of the self-declared "liberated" women, both in the West and in the East - to wit Joumana Haddad - are jealous of the freedoms enjoyed by women like Tatyana or perhaps even scared of where freedom, when truly practiced, might lead, or express condescending sympathy to those wone who choose to do what they want. This is the very Joumana Haddad who was urging on these pages her "unliberated" and "oppressed" sisters in Lebanon and the Arab World, a few weeks ago, to F.U.C.K. - a play on words that betrays her implicit message. That is why I challenged her once, when she criticized FEMEN's nudity techniques, to dare and do the same if she were so liberated. But, alas, she, like many of the elites who benefited from family largesse and standing in their societies, seem to prefer evolution to revolution with their feet, but preach revolution rather than evolution with their mouths, from the comfort of their salons.They do not understand that true freedom carries a price, and Tatyana is such a price.

    May 20, 2013

  • Eva Khouri

    so we are jealous of the 'freedom' enjoyed by those women who have to sell sex and sleep with, among other guys, stinky disgusting men to raise their kids? wowww. you won me there Hanibaal.

    May 21, 2013

  • Beiruti

    It is an interesting article. The Ukrainian woman has her own story as do most who ply this trade. I have heard that in Lebanon where prostitution was primarily a foreign enterprise, that more and more, the local Lebanese girls have submitted to the profession in order to secure money for the family. It is the death path that many in Lebanon have followed. After their middle class jobs disappeared with the war and they could not emigrate, after the war ended and the wages were so low that the Lebanese could not engage the lifestyle they wanted, after they sold off Giddo's farm land and then spent that money, all that was left was to sell off the women to get the money needed to continue the lifestyle. In this way, Lebanon has prostituted her own women and this is where the future of the country has been the most severely compromised. The honor of the women is the backbone of the society. When that is gone, so is the society, regardless of the phony lifestyle that has been purchased by putting your daughters on their backs.

    May 20, 2013

  • JamesKeane

    Such a sensationalist and bigoted article. If anything the author is shooting herself in the foot by taking the example of Tatyana, someone who clearly decided on her own to do sex work and make money. Yes there are real prostitution and trafficking problems in the world, and in Lebanon more than any other country, Arab immigrants from Iraq and Syria are being properly coerced. But that is far from the entire story, many women, especially in the west, decide on their own to do escorting. I have actually personally spoken to many escorts in Europe who actually have very respectable professions but do sex work as an extra way of income, and believe or not, because they enjoy it. The lines are not that fuzzy anymore. If there is a problem of coercion, then it must be tackled, but to write sensationalist space load like this is just pointless and non conducive to whatever the author is trying to fight.

    May 20, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    I wonder how much money our corrupt politicians and security officials - all the way up and down the rank and file - make by diguising the otherwise banned prostituion industry as "artistic dancing". To me, this is the crux of the matter. Exploitation of women and children is rampant all over the world. But in Lebanon, it is doubled up by corruption and the hypocrisy and the bigotry of a system that is based on religions and so-called religious values, causes the death of hundreds of thousands of people in sectarian wars and massacres, and denies Lebanese mothers the Lebanese citizenship for their children, while it allows an underground culture of prostitution, mercantilism, exploitation, and human degradation that is the antithesis of everything it claims to protect us from. No wonder Lebanon is a dysfunctional country, and the reason is very simple: Lebanon may be a country, but it is not a nation.

    May 20, 2013