Rape is a significant and disturbing feature of the Syrian civil war. In the course of three IRC assessments in Lebanon and Jordan, sexual violence was consistently identified by Syrian women, men and community leaders as a primary reason their families fled the country. “We surrendered to the reality of rape,” said a Syrian refugee in Lebanon, remarking on the severity of rape in this crisis.The report does not specify whether it is only the Syrian forces who are committing these crimes or the rebel side as well.
Many women and girls relayed accounts of being attacked in public or in their homes, primarily by armed men. These rapes, sometimes by multiple perpetrators, often occur in front of family members. The IRC was told of attacks in which women and young girls were kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed. Roadblocks, prolific throughout Syria, have become especially perilous for women and girls. The IRC’s women’s protection team in Lebanon was told of a young girl who was gang-raped and forced to stagger home naked—heightening her shame in a society where modesty is so valued.
Because of the stigma and social norms around the “dishonor” that rape brings to women and girls and their families, Syrian survivors rarely report sexual violence. Many of those interviewed by the IRC said women and girl survivors also fear retribution by assailants. others are afraid of being killed by family members if they report incidents, since a raped woman or girl is thought to bring shame to a family.
The fear of rape is so significant that many families are marrying off their daughters to “protect” them from rape. others revert to early marriage if their daughters have been sexually assaulted “to safeguard their honor.” In one extreme case, the IRC was told of a father who shot his daughter when an armed group approached to prevent the “disgrace” of her being raped.
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