LGBT+ people detail brutal sexual violence during Syria Civil War

40 gay and bisexual men, trans women, and non-binary people from Syria spoke in a recently published report about the trauma and stigma around sexual violence.

Reports of sexual violence in Syria: a young man and woman wearing a rainbow flag. In the background, a group on mail standing behind ccb

CW: This article contains details of sexual violence.

Gay and bisexual men, trans women, and non-binary people have detailed the horrific sexual violence they were subjected to during the civil war in Syria as part of a new Human Rights Watch report. 

On Wednesday, July 29, Human Rights Watch released “They Treated Us in Monstrous Ways”: Sexual Violence Against Men, Boys, and Transgender Women in the Syrian Conflict. Based upon interviews with 40 gay and bisexual men, non-binary people, and trans women, as well as four heteresexual men, the report details how queer people were at a heightened risk of being sexually assaulted by Syrian government and non-state armed groups during the country’s civil war. 

In the report, it is further stated LGBT+ people were targeted and subjected to extreme acts of sexual violence since the civil war began in 2011. In a press release, author of the report, Zeynep Pınar Erdem, stated, “Gay and bisexual men, transgender women, and non-binary people said they were targeted for sexual violence during Syria’s conflict for being perceived as ‘soft’.”

Erdem continued, “Men and boys — regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity — are vulnerable to sexual violence in Syria and often remain unseen and without the support all survivors of sexual violence urgently need.”

A 28 year-old gay man, Yousef, spoke about being detained by Syrian intelligence agencies, who violated him after realising his sexuality. He said, “All the aggression was multiplied by 10 I would say. […] To see you are humiliated. This is what they like to see. […] They were happily doing it.”

21 year-old trans woman, Naila, described her experiences of being sexually assaulted by multiple people while she was a minor in a central prison. She stated, “We were mutilated.”

The Human Rights Watch report calls on various political bodies, such as the Syrian Government, United Nations Security Council, and Humanitarian Organisations and Service Providers in Lebanon, to help survivors of abuse. Based on the experiences of those interviewed, the document recommends improving mental health services, conflict resolution, and to end the use of torture and sexual violence in detention facilities as well as enforced disappearance and detention.

Author of the report, Erdem, further expressed, “Men and boys and trans women can experience deep shame, stigma, and silence due to sexual violence. It is vital to challenge the social and cultural assumptions that they should be invulnerable. Services need to be funded, and tailored to support their access and care.”

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