Rape is becoming increasingly widespread in Syria, where a civil war has been underway for almost two years, and recent studies indicate much of it is being carried out by troops and militias loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
One new study by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) reports that rape has become so prevalent it is a factor in driving thousands of Syrian families into exile—either inside Syria or into neighboring countries.
Another group investigating the prevalence of rape in Syria since the civil war started 21 months ago is Women Under Siege (WUS), part of the Women’s Media Center, which documents conflict-related sexual violence.
“What we are seeing in Syria is extraordinary prevalence, geographically widespread,” said Lauren Wolfe, director of WUS.
Wolfe and others, however, say exact figures on the number of rapes taking place are nearly impossible to achieve because of the ongoing civil war and because many rape victim are reluctant to talk about their experience.
The WUS website maps more than 130 reports in Syria that Wolfe says could involve thousands of women. Though WUS encourages Syrian victims to report sexual violence directly to the website, Wolfe says the majority of the reports come from other sources on the ground, i.e., human rights groups, the United Nations and the international media.
“We were all tied up in the town main square…We were afraid and asking for mercy. I was shaking. There were 30 of them with firearms and knives…They took the older women and children away and kept us, the younger women, in the square. They started with me…I eventually stopped moving. I felt paralyzed. I felt like I was suffocating. They smelled rotten, like death. They shouted, ‘You want freedom? This is freedom, freedom, freedom.’
“Ten beasts took turns raping me. When I looked around I saw my mom dead on the ground, covered with blood with all the rest. They killed them, even the children…One of them wanted to cut my neck, but his friend said, ‘She is dying anyway. Look how she is breathing.’ I was barely taking any breaths. Most of my ribs were broken. They dragged me and threw me in a garbage container.” – Testimony of a young girl documented by WUS.
Sara Meger researches gender and international relations at Australia’s University of Melbourne. She says most of the sexual violence is carried out by Syrian military forces and the allied shabiha militia. Members of both groups, she says, seem to have used rape as a form of torture to extract information during interrogations and to punish the population for supporting the rebels. Continue reading