A new report issued by a human rights group on “International Day to End Violence Against Women” says Syria’s civil war "created a context ripe for violence against women, including sexual violence."
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network names the deliberate use of kidnapping and rape of women and girls, especially during “raids, at check points and within detention facilities” as a means to pressure and humiliate family members and take revenge. Women — with their children — have also been used in the conflict as human shields.
Abuses against women have been a "deliberate tactic to defeat the other party from a symbolic and psychological perspective, making women desirable targets as the conflict rages on," the report says.
The report cites particularly horrific instances of abuse culled from cases documented inside seven provinces in Syria as well as in Damascus.
One such case was that of a nine-year-old girl, who was raped in front of her family by government forces in the Baba Amr district of the central Homs province in March 2012.
Another case quotes a teenager, a 19-year-old named Aida from Tartus, a town in the coastal region, who was held in detention for four months, from October 2012 to January 2013.
One of times she was raped occurred the day before a court hearing. She was assaulted by three government soldiers. The report documents Aida’s case in her own words:
"The interrogator left me in the room and came back with three personnel who took turns raping me. I fiercely resisted the first but when the second started, I became more terrified and couldn't resist," she said.
"When the third started, I totally collapsed. I was bleeding all the time. As the last one finished, I fell on the ground. Ten minutes later, the prison doctor came in and took me to the bathroom where he gave me an injection to enable me to stand before the judge."
Although the reports says 6,000 cases of rape have occurred since the beginning of the conflict, the actual number is believed to be at significantly higher, since many cases go unreported due to the stigma such crimes carry in Syrian society.
The report states that, “Syrian women exposed to sexual abuses subsequently found themselves victimized not only by the crime itself, but also by enduring the silence that surrounds the crime and the social pressure related to it.”
The result of reporting such a crime in Syrian society can lead to honor killing (of the victim), divorce or further abuse from family members. Many women, whose abuse has become public, have fled their communities, exposing themselves to even more danger in the worn-torn country. Abuses have also been documented in refugee camps.
Regime forces are said to have perpetrated 70 percent of the crimes against women, with rebel forces guilty of the the rest. Rape by government forces is a common tactic used in conflicts when the opposition forces comes from within the society and rely on civilian support, according to prominent journalist Lauren Wolfe, an expert on rape in areas of war and the director of Women Under Siege, a organization that has documented sexual violence in Syria for the last year.
The London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights, cites 25 cases of women being kidnapped and held hostage for use in prisoner exchanges or "to pressure their male relatives to surrender."
Sema Nasar, of the Syrian Network, collected first-hand testimonies from Syrian women during from January to June of 2013.
To date, 120,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict. Figures from the first two years of the conflict show that 5,400 women were detained during those years, the whereabouts of many remain unknown.
Further, in many of those cases, women have been "detained indefinitely without being presented to the judge, with no access to lawyers or family, and exposed to torture and ill treatment."