Women Under Siege - Mapping sexualized violence in Syria

    Jul 18, 2012

    [Guest post by Lauren Wolfe, director, Women Media Center’s Women Under Siege project, is an award-winning journalist who has written for publications from The International Herald Tribune to CNN.com. She was previously the senior editor of the Committee to Protect Journalists, where she focused on journalists and sexualized violence.]

    Rape is being used as a tool of war in Syria, and, in most cases, it is allegedly being carried out by government perpetrators, according to the first findings from a live, crowd-sourced mapping project from Women’s Media Center project Women Under Siege. Read the full report here. women under siege The findings from WMC’s Women Under Siege, which documents sexualized violence in conflict, are based on a breakdown of 81 reports of rape and sexual assault that span from the beginning of the conflict in March 2011 to June 30. A team of journalists, activists, and doctors at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health collected and analyzed data gathered over the past three months, breaking them down into 117 specific incidents of sexualized violence. Many more women, girls, men, and boys than 117 have been sexually assaulted, according to the crowdmap, but it’s impossible to tally up victims because many of the stories contain vague numbers. The detailed report also shows that the sexualized attacks appear to be widespread and not limited to one city.

    “The data we have so far suggest sexualized violence is being used as a tool of war, although possibly haphazardly and not necessarily as an organized strategy,” said Dr. Karestan Koenen, associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School and the lead epidemiologist on the mapping project. “These reports indicate that post-conflict intervention will need to address the consequences of sexualized violence for victims.”

    Government perpetrators have committed the majority of the attacks against women and men we’ve been able to track: 61 percent, with another 6 percent carried out by government and shabiha forces (plainclothes militia) together. In all but one case of sexualized violence against men, the perpetrators were reportedly members of government forces, mostly in detention. In 42 percent of the incidents of sexualized violence against women that we found, the victims were allegedly attacked by multiple people at once, suggesting a disturbingly high rate of gang rape. “The fact that a large portion of the alleged crimes involved multiple attackers indicates possible coordinated, orchestrated, or systematic violence without restraints on the behavior of government and other forces,” said Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, who added that the new data reveals an important snapshot of the scale of the horror. Women Under Siege Graph Of the 117 reports, 80 percent of them include female victims, with ages ranging from 7 to 46. Of those, 89 percent reported rape; 11 percent of reports include detention that appears to have been for the purposes of sexualized violence or enslavement for a period of longer than 24 hours. The data also show that 20 percent of women were allegedly killed during the sexualized violence or found dead after being violated. “This work done by the Women’s Media Center and its collaborators shows why it’s extraordinarily important that this research is done to so that the media can tell the story to the whole world,” said Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center. WMC co-founder Gloria Steinem, who spearheads WMC’s Women Under Siege, said: “At last we are gaining ways of reporting what is happening in real time to real people on the ground, women and men. It's a step toward bringing human rights into real life.” The Women’s Media Center was founded in 2005 by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Steinem. It works to make women and girls visible and powerful in the media through media advocacy campaigns, media monitoring for sexism, creating original content, training women and girls to participate in media, and connecting women experts with the media.

    Further reading:

    The Number you need to know (Women Under Siege Project, July 16, 2012)

    The Ultimate assault charting Syria's Use of rape to terrorize its people (The Atlantic, July 2012)

    Crowd-sourced map highlights rape by Syrian army (The Jerusalem Post, July 15, 2012)

    Syria Tracker has mapped over 19,738 documented killings in Syria, March 18, 2011 thru July 14, 2012. This team also uses Crowdmap for their important work.

    [Ed. note: Thanks to Catherine Dempsey for editing this post]