Rape is “a significant and disturbing feature of the Syrian civil war” according to a report released by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a US based NGO, last Monday. “These rapes, sometimes by multiple perpetrators, often occur in front of family members,” the report states.
Has anyone noticed the lack of media interest in war rape in Syria? How many people are aware that rape is a widespread and systematic practice in Syria? Are such heinous sex acts not newsworthy enough? Or is war rape unreported because war rape in Syria is not on the same level as mass rape during the 13-year civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 40 women were raped everyday?
We might not know the full scale of the abuse in Syria but we do know that rape was the main reason for more than 600,000 Syrians fleeing their home country according to the IRC. The 600,000 are the lucky ones - millions remain trapped in a rape zone. One female physician in Damascus treated 2,000 girls and women raped in Syria alone.
While the IRC said it was impossible to give statistics, its report gives you an idea of the sheer scale of war rape. Many of the reports at this stage are anecdotal or second- or third-hand. With human rights investigators refused access to Syria it is impossible to verify rape claims and gather reliable data.
A major obstacle in gaining accurate data on war rape is that such acts are under-reported by Syrians. They fear reporting war rape due to the “dishonor” and “stigma” reporting could bring them and their families. Victims fear retribution from their own families and social ignominy. Meanwhile there is no accountable or uncorrupted police force in Syria to even take such reports seriously, let alone record sexual complaints.
Despite the challenges of gathering data in conflict there is enough evidence from the reports compiled to indicate that war rape in Syria is a major feature of the civil war. War rape is used predominantly but not exclusively against women. Women are targeted in Syria to oppress, persecute, enslave and torture.