Tag Archives: Men

Syria: A reminder that women are not the only victims of sexual violence.

24 Feb

What started months ago as peaceful protests in Syria has descended into a violent conflict, which has left an estimated 6,000 dead. As I sit writing this in Washington DC, the Syrian government continues to shell civilian areas, most notably the city of Homs, which has been under near constant bombardment for nearly three weeks, leading to the deaths of likely hundreds (though numbers are nearly impossible to confirm due to a lack of media or humanitarian access), including the recent deaths of 2 western journalists. But bombs and tanks are only a portion of the atrocities taking place in the troubled state.

Yesterday a United Nations panel released a new report accusing the Syrian government of committing Crimes Against Humanity. Although this report focused predominately on where responsibility lies for these crimes, it once again gave a rundown of the atrocities committed, ranging from the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, to arbitrary arrests and torture (including sexual assault), that have been the primary focus of previous UN reports.

Rumors of the use of sexual violence by Syrian forces have been circulating since early last summer.  While there were numerous stories being told of women being detained by authorities and raped, little could be confirmed in these early months by human rights groups or the media. These stories fed into not only the worst fears of women and girls in Syria, but the men who care about them. These fears proved to be a useful tool in Syria, where reports state that during detention and interrogation Security Forces would often threaten to rape men’s female relatives.

By November, rumors gave way to fact, when the independent international inquiry commission released their first report on the “gross human rights abuses” committed in Syria. While the report acknowledge the likely use of rape against women, it claimed to have little evidence of these attacks*.  However, the report provided alarming details on the use of sexual violence and torture  against men and in many cases boys, some as young as 11, who were being held in detention. Testimonies told of the use of rape, forced oral sex and other forms of sexual torture by security forces. Victims and witnesses stated that these atrocities were often conducted publicly in front of other detainees (including family members).

As illustrated in the examples above, sexual violence has proved to be both an effective  tool for the Syrian armed forces. While attacks on men had in some cases physical effects, as did other forms of physical torture, there appears to have been a large psychological motive behind these abuses. Syrian Security Forces played off of the fear, humiliation and dishonor that these attacks (and the threats made against the women in their lives) instilled.

These testimonies from Syria serve as an unfortunate reminder that women are not the only victims of sexual violence in war zones. The idea that women can be the only targets of these abuses is an assumption that we too often make. And one which may hamper attempts to curb the use of rape and sexual violence in conflict.

~Apologies for this being a somewhat hastily written piece that’s more my collection of random thoughts on the atrocities in Syria, than any great analysis.

* The report specifically details  reasons for women’s likely under-reporting of sexual assaults, including the stigma attached to rape in Syria.

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