Edit: Here is my response to criticism I received regarding this post.
“The stories we’ve heard talking to Syrian women in Lebanon are truly horrific. Many of these women have experienced rape and torture in Syria, but as refugees can’t find the support they need to heal their physical and emotional scars—let alone provide food and shelter for their families,” International Rescue Committee Commission on Syrian Refugees (IRC hereafter) Emergency Field Director SanJ SriKanThan says in a recent study documenting lives of Syrian refugees [PDF].1
Accounts of Violations & Deaths: Syrian Women Defiled
A Syrian woman was raped to death with a rat. A rat was forcefully thrust in between her legs, while in captivity, and then she died. Stop for a moment and try to fully fathom that. This happened in Syria. Not a sick Hollywood movie. This happened to my sister, your sister, my mother, your mother, my aunt, your aunt, my grandmother, your grandmother; this happened to us, all of us. Charlotte Proudman of The Independent reports:
”One woman described an assault on another prisoner, which she witnessed. “He pushed a rat in her vagina. She was screaming. Afterwards we saw blood on the floor. He told her: ‘Is this good enough for you?’ They were mocking her. It was obvious she was in agony. We could see her. After that she no longer moved.”
Another woman, who was taken for 48 hours, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR hereafter) reports, returned a corpse with “marks of torture and barbarianism” to her family. Survived witnesses also report to the SNHR that security personnel would urinate in the mouths of female detainees to break their will. Moreover, a detainee said that she was prevented from using pads during her period, which led her to sanitize herself using trash; hence, developing a “reproductive disease.” Male detainees similarly reported female prisoners being questioned while naked in separate cells.
Accounts of Gang-Rapes: Young Girls in Ruins
The Women Under Siege in Syria project (WUS hereafter), which is run by the United States based Women’s Media Center, curated 133 reports of abuse, rape, and sexual violations of Syrians, both genders included. In one report, WUS translates an alleged confession of a Syrian Army solider, who says they [solides] were given “two tablets of Zemax, a sexual stimulant, to swallow” two hours before being commanded to take captured women of Baba Amr, who had just witnessed their husbands, sons, and brothers shot point-blank, into separate rooms to rape them. “I raped three women. After the rapes we left the halls. I do not know what happened to those women,” he says in a video.
Instances of gang-rape have become so often that it was reported to the IRC a young girl was “forced to stagger home naked” after being violated by a group of men. Another girl, now in a safe hostel, along with 16 other cases, told Al-Arabiya of being gang-raped, where she witnessed her mother’s death while being forcefully held down. She says (as per WUS translation):
“They took the older women and children away and kept us, the younger women, in the square. They started with me. One of them untied me. When I resisted he pulled my hair and pushed me to the ground. I hit my head. When I screamed, my mother recognized my voice. I heard her saying, ‘Please leave her, she is so young. Take me instead, I beg you.’ They just laughed.
“Three faces got close to mine, and many hands started touching my body. Within seconds I was naked. I tried to fight back. I was trembling like a slaughtered hen. Their arms were like octopus arms squeezing me. I eventually stopped moving. I felt paralyzed. I felt like I was suffocating. They smelled rotten, like death. They shouted, ‘You want freedom? This is freedom, freedom, freedom.’ One monster hit me on the face and kicked my body. He stepped on my chest and I heard my bones cracking. Pain felt like a fire whipping me. I heard them cursing my screaming mom, ‘Shut up, you….’”
On the counts of mortality, The SNHR documented the death of 3,517 that they know of, Syrian females, 1,079 being underage. Causes of their deaths vary from being shelled and victims of airstrikes to executions, rape, suicide, kidnap, and being tortured to death, SNHR adds. 495 females are currently detained, 27 of those not older than 18 years of age, SNHR says.
The Big Picture: Social Taboos & Laws Aiding Criminals
Those accounts, though ghastly gruesome, barely depict the entire reality of what happens to females in Syria. Discussing rape, abuse, and what have you of violations done to them is considered a taboo in Syrian societies. Women are hushed, deemed guilty, and killed for honor because their body was defied. In fact, in what the IRC called an “extreme case,” a father “shot his daughter when an armed group approached to prevent the “disgrace” of her being raped.” Even prior to the revolution, often stories of brothers shooting their sisters, and females jumping off balconies would make it to headlines with words like “shame” and “honor” describing them. What saddens me most is that this harsh reality I speak of is not news in the Middle East today.
There are laws in Jordan (article 308), Morocco, and other Middle Eastern countries that exempt rapists from the death penalty and let them marry their victim. When 16 year-old Amina Filali committed suicide, everyone went haywire for a while. And then, just like that, her story, her agony, her struggle, was buried along with her violated body. As a collective society, we get these momentarily collective outcries against the system, but then we move on to the next hot thing. As awful as it is, it is not only a matter of one female getting raped. It is the concept of aiding a perpetrator and thus reproducing a new generation of rapists, because as bad of a crime as it is, as easy of a crime it is to get away with in the Middle East.
With Syria, however, those violations have crossed every metaphorical line possible. The IRC reports that one of the leading causes that the 600,000 documented Syrian refugees have fled for was in fact fear of rape. “The situation for refugee women and girls is grim,” states the report. Even then, female refugees are not safe, with “elevated levels of domestic violence,” as they are in dire need of medical attention, and are forced, even sold, to marriage. Hassan Hassan of The National reported in September of 2012:
It is common to see on Arabic online forums requests by men “seeking marriage from Syrian girls”. At a price ranging from 500 to 1,000 Saudi riyals (Dh490 to Dh980), girls are reportedly being taken from refugee camps in Jordan. Saudi Arabia is most often named as the destination, but a similar trend is reported in other countries including Iraq and Turkey.
Where You Come In: Your Voice is Heard
I don’t know who you are, reading this right now. I dare not ask you to put yourself in a what if situation where this happens to someone you know. It is far too awful even for imagination to grasp. I ask of you, if you, just as I, do not have the power to stop this, raise awareness; condemn the violence; stand firm against it; and do not, please, I beg of you, do not be silenced by fear, nonchalance, or whatever your reasons may be. If not by a protest, then tell your friends. If not by a petition to your government asking them for support, then tweet about it, Facebook it, blog about it; do something, anything. You alone have a voice, and along with other voices, you make an echo loud enough to generate a difference. Be that difference. It does not end with just your voice, but it starts with it.
The Syrian American Council has started a petition, asking the US First Lady to condemn Assad for his crimes against females, sign here.
If you are considering starting an organization to aid raped / abused Syrian females; please email me. Let us start working towards a better tomorrow for Syria today.
Note: All quotes used in this post have been cited from and attributed to their original source.Footnote:
- I spent more than twelve hours writing this post, eight of which I used on research and fact-checking; reading heart-wrenching accounts of rape, narrated by victims, or witnesses who were lucky to survive. I also went out for an unplanned 6 a.m. two hour walk, wearing hotel disposable slippers and nothing but my jammies. It led me to nowhere in specific. I was chasing sunrise. The closer I got to the sun, the further it went up towards the middle of the sky. In a sense, I feel as though my encounter with the sun is similar to attaining freedom in Syria. The more we walk towards freedom, the more we lose our soul, identity, and heart. This is the point of no return, you see. Our nation has been bent, altered, defiled in countless of ways from all sides contributing to destruction that retreating is as impossible as it is to touch the sun and not burn out. But there is this faint spark of hope that yearns to be proven right. This fight we will win, and our country we shall rebuild; brick by brick, stitch by stitch, and blood by blood, we will rebuild our Syria. By the time I had gotten home, my body was weary, but I was emotionally refined, for I had vouched to myself, to God, and now to all those bearing witness, that I, Nour Al-Ali, will dedicate my future, career, life, being and existence to aiding and helping all Syrian women who undergo (past, present, and future) rape / abuse recover from this ordeal. Rape is a can of worms that has been let loose in the Middle East, and I will spend every waking moment of my life disposing of it. [↩]