Women under siege: The use of rape as a weapon of war in Syria

Dr Sima Barmania

Untitled 110 300x247 Women under siege: The use of rape as a weapon of war in SyriaThe announcement over the weekend to suspend the activities of UN observers in Syria represents a stark indication of the chaos unfolding within the country, as well as the “escalating violence”.

Furthermore, over the course of the Syrian crisis there has also been horrendous reports of gender based violence.

Last week the organisation Human Rights Watch reported that Syrian government forces have been using sexual violence to facilitate torture of both men and women detainees.  In addition, the organisation has also heard testimonies from civilians who have also suffered violence of a sexual nature in their own homes

Sickeningly, sexualised violence is all too frequently used as a weapon of war in conflict situations, such as had been the case in Rwanda and Darfur.

However, a Women’s Media Center project called Women under Siege is working to document, highlight and publicise sexualised violence in Syria in a visual “crowd map”.

Director of Women under Siege, Lauren Wolfe explains:

“The World Health Organization and the UN Security Council have identified that there remains a crucial lack of analysis about how rape is used as a weapon of war: Its methods, its applications, its fallout are just not easily seen, and therefore not easily fixed”.

However, Wolfe explains that by having a crowd map, where one can report crimes of sexual violence anonymously allows them to “literally put women’s stories of suffering on the map, something that has never been done during a live conflict”.

Although they are not able to independently verify reports, the information has been quite horrifying, she explains:

“One of the things we’ve found at Women Under Siege is that rape in conflict appears to require men to utterly dehumanize the women they rape. It’s a way of conquering the enemy that is so extreme and so base that it allows perpetrators to stop viewing these women as fellow humans, and instead see them as an enemy to be destroyed”.

Looking at the map, with the date and location makes the events seem somewhat more vivid, more real.

One instance recently described is that of the two sisters, 12 and 14 who were beaten and gang-raped by shabiha and Syrian security in their home and was witnessed by their mother and two brothers.

They are also hearing of sexual enslavement and women injected with a substance that renders them paralyzed for the duration of the rape, a gross loss of autonomy.

Wolfe explains that aside from documenting the cases they have also been able to confirm patterns consistent with other human rights organisations such as the rape of women at checkpoints, rape of the male detainees themselves and mass rapes after army shelling.

In the midst of such disgusting and degrading reports of sexualised violence it could be all too easy to be resigned to despondency, but Wolfe remains resolute and unwavering:

“My hope is that Women Under Siege helps us better understand the means, patterns, and motivations behind these mass atrocities. Until we realize that this is a global public health crisis—and a human rights issue for all of us—we’re not going to see the end of it.”

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  • ricardo lion

    The junior partner of the USA & NATO is the poodle, the Little Satan (according to Iran), the poodle that bites, you know, the one that attacked Korea, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Iraq again and Libya, the one killing men holding old Kalashnikovs defending their country, women and children in Afghanistan, the one that went to war over Argentinian islands, that occupies part of Spain, that killed all those civilians in Northern Ireland, the one whose MI5 tortures its own Muslim citizens.
    Lebanon declared war on Israel back in 1948 and started every conlfict. Lucky Israel is civilized and didn’t fire thousands of rockets (we have lots of them) at random on Lebanon. We didn’t bomb them from above, like you did to your ex-friend Libya, that never fired a single rocket. We sent troops in and the best to perform were the Druze (thank you).
    Who is this Murdoch? Don’t give a xxxx about him, don’t live in Britain, what is he to me? A British Christian, like yourself, your problem.
    Forget about Judaism, you are obsessed.

  • Old Git Tom


    well. with the Nazi legions marching once again, we must expect censorship, & worse. President Bojangles rules increasingly by diktat, & expressed vague hopes to ‘control’ bad press on the internet. OGT

  • Old Git Tom

    you do a top-notch troll-concert, I give you that. But me ‘obsessed’, when you European Zionists invaded Palestine, claiming it was yours, & waving the 2,000-year-old Bible as land title?
    Hezbollah gave Zionism a bloody nose in Lebanon, but unleashing NATO’s nazi dive-bombers on Syria is surely a cowardly form of revenge? As in Libya, most of the victims will be civilians, including women & children. Not what you want? Then join the real Jews, who oppose & fight this satanism.
    Oh, checked out that weird, pagan monument on the border at Eilat, yet? OGT

  • Rachel Gallery

    I don’t understand how this article can have led to the demented ranting below. While I (as a woman)welcome the work of Women Under Seige, it’s important not to ignore/dismiss the suffering of male rape victims as well. An aricle in a, erm, rival newspaper recently won an award for highlighting how much harder it is for men to admit to being raped. I see you mention men here too. Just a comment, not a criticism or trolling.

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