A report released Wednesday by Women Under Siege, a group documenting sexualized violence in Syria, has for the first time attempted to measure such atrocities in an ongoing conflict.
Epidemiologists from Columbia University, the Syrian-American Medical Society and Syrian activists and journalists, have helped Women Under Siege document and collect data to figure out where and how women and men are being violated.
The group’s finding show that 60 per cent of sexualized attacks against men and women are reportedly by government forces, with “another 17 per cent carried out by government and shabiha (plainclothes militia) forces together.”
The group has analyzed 162 stories gathered since the onset of revolt two years ago, and has been working with 226 separate pieces of data. “Eighty per cent of our reports include female victims, with ages ranging from seven to 46. Of those women, 85 per cent reported rape,” said Lauren Wolfe, director of the project.
The social stigma attached to sexualized violence in Syria is acute. Sexual relations before marriage are largely unheard of and upholding the family name in a culture where reputation is held in high regard often trumps individual suffering.
An Associated Press report from last month found that scores of women in the Zaatari refugee camp over the border in Jordan had either turned to or have been forced into prostitution. And families at the camp have been reported to have sold their daughters for cash, often to Gulf men, in order to support family members back in Syria.
“Atrocities are inevitably muted when victims die, and perpetrators worldwide know this. Part of the reason we’ve chosen to live-track sexualized violence in Syria is because so much evidence is lost in war. Consider that 18 per cent of the women in our reports were allegedly witnessed killed or found dead after sexualized violence,” Ms. Wolfe said.
Rape and sexualized violence has been a long-time weapon of intimidation in Syria, often employed by pro-government militias in order to inflict shame and fear on those opposing the rule of the Syrian government. From the first days of the government crackdown on protestors in the city of Deraa, reports emerged of both men and women being sexually abused by government forces. The notion, according to one woman from Deraa, was to shame protestors off the streets.