Syrian men are just as likely to be victims of abuse, but have nowhere to turn for help
LONDON: Of all the many horrors of the war in Syria, it is the one least spoken about, even by its victims. Perhaps especially by its victims. Sexual violence is not a new phenomenon in war, but it is generally assumed to be directed at women and girls. However, a newly published investigation reveals that in Syria, the victims of torture by rape and sexual assault are just as likely to be men and boys. Yet such is the stigma and so complex the reasons for that stigma, that their suffering is almost completely unacknowledged, let alone reported. “There are no organizations that take care of them, and men don’t talk,” said one aid worker. Instead they suffer in silence, their wounds — both physical and psychological — left untreated.“It is completely destroying for men,” said another source working with an international NGO. If it becomes known that a man has suffered sexual violence, “it means he has to leave his community (and go) where nobody knows that he has been sexually abused.” The authors of the report admit that even their research cannot be classed as comprehensive. Between September 2017 and July 2018, field workers from the All Survivors Project (ASP), an interna- tional research and advocacy organization, conducted interviews with 66 informants. They included representatives of UN aid agencies, experts in medical care and mental health, NGOs, human rights activist and academics. Two thirds of the interviewees were aware of incidents of sexual violence against men and boys, either through providing medical attention or other humanitarian support or hearing of such cases directly from survivors or from their family, friends or colleagues. Some informants had directly witnessed men and boys being violated. The resulting report, “Destroyed from with- in,” is a shocking expose of the sexual torture suffered by men and boys in Syrian prisons, detention centers, at checkpoints and even in refugee centers in neighboring Turkey, supposedly after reaching safety.