Male rape and sexual torture widespread in Syria

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LONDON: Widespread sexual violence against boys and men in the Syrian crisis has been uncovered in a report from UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

It documents sexual attacks that involved torture and are far more common than previously thought, with victims ranging from as young as 10 to men in their 80’s.

UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told Arab News that after six years of conflict and violence, Syrians have “suffered immensely.”

“Death, destruction and displacement have marked every part of the country,” Mahecic said, explaining that as a result, 65 percent of the population has been displaced – including 6.3 million inside the country and another 5.3 million refugees in the region.

“In addition to killings and other atrocities, a disturbing feature of the conflict has been wide spread sexual violence perpetrated by multiple parties to the conflict,” said Mahecic.

Those who were interviewed revealed shocking accounts of what they had experienced.

“When I was in detention in Syria I was tortured in every possible way … At night, they hung us from our hands – they tortured us with electricity to the genitals. They would come into the cell to violate us, but it was dark – we couldn’t see them,” said a refugee who the report identified as Tarek.

Much of the torture is believed to have happened in detention or makeshift prisons.

In Syria, armed groups were reported as the main perpetrators, while outside the war-torn country, the attacks often originated from what the report called “opportunistic” abuse.

Refugee boys in countries of asylum have also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of other male refugees and from males in the local community. Those at high risk are believed to be child laborers among the Syrian refugees.

The UN body said that the study that was carried out in late 2016, involved dozens of people and focus group discussions with over 190 refugees in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.

Another refugee also spoke of the horrors one of his family members endured.

“One of my uncles in Syria was arrested. He told us … that there was not one spot on his body that had not been abused by an electric drill. He had been raped … After he was released he stopped eating and became alcoholic. He died from kidney failure,” he was quoted in the report.

Others reported that employers would refuse to pay wages unless sexual favors were performed. The abuse also included blackmail by using sexually degrading photos or videos.

“These are most disturbing accounts revealing just how grave the risk of sexual violence has become both for women and girls and, as shown by this recent report, also men and boys,” said Volker Turk, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.

The report makes a number of recommendations geared toward humanitarian agencies involved in working with refugees.

The UNHCR spokesperson explained that these include the need for stronger prevention strategies, better confidentiality arrangements and strengthened awareness among humanitarian agencies and staff.

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