Syrian refugees cover their faces to avoid recognition as they arrive in Turkey. Government forces have raped countless men, women and children as part of their attempt to quash the uprising. (AFP photo)
On April 1, a Syrian doctor named Moussa al-Kurdi told Al-Jazeera that he received a report regarding the rape of two girls, aged 10 and 14, by government forces in southern Syria, which resulted in their being impregnated.
According to Kurdi, these two girls are part of a group of around 260 child refugees, boys and girls, whose parents were killed or arrested and who live in a hotel provided by a charity. Intelligence services in Syria prevented doctors from documenting the rapes and filing an official report about it. Kurdi said that the children are being threatened.
This story is a sample of the horrors committed against the Syrian people. For more than a year now, the Syrian regime has been fighting a war against its own people to regain control of the country. Rape may be the best means to destroy the morale of the enemy, not only in the present, but also for the future, as victims, especially those who became pregnant as a result of the rape, have to live with it for the rest of their lives, according to writer Hazem Saghiyeh.
The mission of Syrian activists monitoring and documenting the number of those killed, arrested and missing since the start of the revolution is tough, as the Syrian authorities have banned journalists, reporters and relief workers from covering events and closed off regions that are being raided. This mission is doubly hard when it comes to documenting cases of rape. Indeed, in addition to the ban on journalists and aid workers, this issue is a taboo, and rape victims and their families avoid revealing incidents due to the shame it brings to the whole clan in conservative cultures.
In an attempt to break the silence and document rape cases, the association Women Under Siege was recently established to gather evidence so as to be able to give the victims justice. According to WUS Director Lauren Wolfe, sexual crimes are often reported months, years or even decades after the incident, which makes it difficult to provide evidence. Wolfe expressed the hope that the association will be able to record these aggressions in order to shed light on this aspect of the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
The association is communicating with activists within and outside Syria who provide it with accurate reports on cases of sexualized violence.
Both men and women are victimized by sexual violence, according to reports by Amnesty International and the United Nations, though so few people report rapes that it is impossible to know how many people have been affected. Human Rights Watch fears that the extent of these violations may be underestimated in some cases and, in other cases, exaggerated in order to encourage people to arm themselves.
However, according to a HRW researcher who did not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak on the subject, it has been confirmed that rape is being used as a method of torture against men and women in Syrian prisons. The researcher also mentioned reports of sexual assault against women when the army raids houses in search of wanted men or weapons.
According to one Syrian activist who did not want to give his name out of fear for his security, the regime is allowing these aggressions, even if it does not specifically order them. These rapes are an expression of lawlessness in order to humiliate and subdue people.
The repercussions of sexual assault are dangerous and deep-reaching. The rape victim may struggle with feelings of shock, trauma, loss and guilt, according to psychotherapist Nadine Lahoud. The hardest cases, she noted, are those that end in pregnancy. Rape victims need support from their families and psychological intervention, which is difficult where rape brings shame and should not be talked about.
Despite the horror and bleakness of the situation, humanitarian initiatives spark some hope. In addition, Facebook discussions among Syrian groups indicate a genuine awareness of the depth and repercussions of the problem and the means to deal with it. When news of sexual assaults started spreading on social networking sites, a group called “Syrians who are honored to marry rape victims” formed. “We will not let you down, and we are honored that you will be our wives and the mothers of our children,” says the group’s Facebook page. “Any man of honor would wear you as a crown and a medal, and we will take up your defense for as long as we shall live.”
“Raped women are victims who concern all of us,” another post read. “They are victims of our silence all these years, and those who shall put a knife to their necks would better cradle them gently and use this knife instead in the face of the true executioner… The people who see a raped woman as shameful and thinks about slaying her once again is not a people of rebellion.”
Perhaps there is hope that the two girls who were impregnated by their rapists, in addition to all the undocumented victims, will find a safe and healthy supporting environment within the Syrian society.