Is the Syrian Regime Using Rape as a Tactic of War?

Reports suggest that troops loyal to the embattled government of Syrian President Bashar Assad are carrying out a systematic campaign of rape

  • Share
  • Read Later
LO / AFP / Getty Images

A destroyed Syrian tank remains in a damaged street in Atareb, in the northern Aleppo province, on July 2, 2012

According to a New York City–based women’s-rights organization, the Syrian government isn’t just using artillery strikes and snipers to crack down on the uprising in its midst. Reports started coming in a few months ago: a Facebook post from a young girl; a shrouded woman in hijab telling her story on YouTube; foreign journalists recounting horrors whispered in refugee camps. These were the stories of women and children raped and abused by Syrian government soldiers and paramilitaries loyal to the embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. The reports range from tales of groping to gang rape to women being held captive as sex slaves. Some include horrific accounts of women’s genitals being burned or exposed to rodents.

For the past three months, Women Under Siege, an affiliate of Gloria Steinem’s Women’s Media Center, has gathered data on sexual violence in Syria, spotlighting assaults carried out by Syrian government personnel. The group released its findings on Wednesday with a crowdsourced map that it hopes will be an effective tool to catalog and publicize how rape has become a weapon in war. “A lot of that kind of information has been lost to history because of shame, stigma and even death,” says Lauren Wolfe, one of the founders of the project.

The group’s research includes 81 stories of sexual assault reported since the onset of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, with most of the alleged culprits being the regime’s soldiers or shabiha (plainclothes militia). Almost 70% of attacks against women have been by Syrian government personnel, 90% of the women assaulted were raped and 42% of the women attacked were gang-raped. Young boys were also assaulted, with many of these attacks occurring while the boys were held in government detention. It remains unclear whether the culprits were acting on direct orders or of their own accord, but some of the reports include men claiming that they were told to rape the women they capture. It’s suspected that many of the victims have some ties to the Syrian rebellion; their bodies have become another battlefield of the country’s bloody civil war. Some reports claim that rebel fighters have been forced to watch their wives and daughters be repeatedly raped.

(MORE: The Invisible War: When Soldiers Rape Soldiers)

Women Under Siege proposes a three-pronged solution to the problem. The map was one of the biggest parts of the project — a visual aid to make people connect with an issue that many may simply turn from in disgust. “It really, literally is putting women’s stories of suffering in war on a map. I think it’s caused people to look more closely at what might be going on as opposed to seeing a story and just turning the page,” Wolfe says. Second, the group hopes to pinpoint hot spots of sexual violence so that aid organizations working in Syria can focus their relief efforts in those areas. Finally, it hopes to gather enough concrete evidence that can eventually be brought to bear before a war-crimes tribunal.

(MORE: Stories of Mass Rape: Sifting Through Rumor and Taboo in Syria)

The use of rape as a tactic of war is hardly unique to Syria: Wolfe cites recent instances in Rwanda, Bosnia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where either propaganda has blatantly encouraged militias and armies to carry out rape or commanders have turned a blind eye to the practice — something Wolfe says makes them equally culpable. Because of the current situation in Syria, nothing can be proved firsthand, but Wolfe says the group’s research has been painstaking, and only a few of its sources have preserved their anonymity. “It’s really going to come down to who you believe,” Wolfe says. “It’s the sort of thing that has no proof to it — you can’t necessarily see it. A woman may go through surgery, she may become pregnant, she may not. It’s the age-old story: What kind of proof do we need that a woman has been raped?”

Wolfe emphasizes that women who are assaulted suffer much more than just the initial attack. The aftermath of rape can cause anxiety, depression, pregnancy, HIV, STIs and chronic diseases — lingering traumas that Women Under Siege will also seek to document in its research. More than anything, Women Under Siege hopes its study will make people understand the myriad ways war consumes everyone close to it. “It’s not just soldiers, it’s not just people on the front lines [being hurt] … women are really on the front lines at this point.”

7 comments
YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

What’s so shocking? Assad the Elder decorated Syrian soldiers for murdering Israeli prisoners of War with bare hands. They exemplified “bravery” with the sheer brutality “lions” (Assad in Arabic is lion). Yet no one in the liberal world thought to protest, not even the UN institutions especially established and financed to control war crimes. Now they are shocked that the heroes rape women between killing their sons – why, this is a known behavior of lions in the wild.

rikashort
rikashort

Men in power are the scourge of the earth. Without exception.

fillmein
fillmein

The main reason guys rape is because they want sex,  not because they think it will cause the enemy to surrender...get real

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

It's time to move in. Screw Russia. JUST DO IT!

rikashort
rikashort

Why has the US waited so long? They've never waited this long to get into the fray. This is one of the rare times that the US can actually do good by going into a country uninvited.

Carl Loeber
Carl Loeber

This is what happens when President

Obama abdicates the field out of cowardice  ..  he should have acted to stop the murder more than 400 days ago .. by

sending in drones for the dictator's palaces in Damascus .. instead

President Obama has descended into ignominious cowardice ..

Did

the Kremlin wait to get UN approval when they went sent tanks into

Georgia in 2008 ?  Why is President Obama handcuffed by the Kremlin ?

  we can only say that it is because he does not want to save the

Syrians .. he does not want to send in drones .. he does not want to

risk re-election chances and thinks he can shirk his responsibility as

leader of the free world ..

Who

does President Obama and the West depend on the save the Syrian

children ? The same man who the US depended to save the Rwandan and

Bosnian children ..  

Syrian

authorities are systematically detaining and torturing children, the

United Nations' human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has told the BBC.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/worl......  

President

Obama has allowed this to happen .. he has given free rein to the

dictators in Damascus and abandoned the Syrian people .. he said the

right things when he lead the charge against Qaddafi .. but has let his

re-election rule his moral sense on Syria ..

It is disgraceful cowardice unbecoming of the leader of the home of the brave ..

He

could have shot back at the Damascus dictators 487 days ago when they

started shooting innocent protesters .. He could have sent cruise

missiles and drones to attack the palace of the dictator and his tanks

and artillery .. He and the other leaders of the West meekly bow to the

Kremlin and Chinese dictators ..   instead they only strain their

intelligence coming up with new words to say how horrible are the Syrian

dictators' atrocities ..

March

28, 2011, President Obama said .. "when people were being brutalized in

Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a

year to intervene with air power to protect civilians."

www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-...

“To

brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly —

our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such

circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are,” (Except in an

election year?)

“Some

nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other

countries. The United States of America is different,” (Except in an

election year?)  

2011: “And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”  

2012: Coward.

I have been to Syria and never met a better people .. they deserve the dignity of aid from President Obama and the West ..

Gyre54
Gyre54

Systematic institutionalized rape is the most despicable act a leader can engage in.  Forget Afghanistan (Hillary's pet project). We should do to Syria what we, and NATO did to Libya. Screw Russia. Let's see just how much they can do if NATO moves against their little client state.