Syria forces reportedly using rape, sexual torture in fight against opposition

This image taken from a Syria opposition member's online video appears to show cluster munition remnants found in the area surrounding Hama, Syria, according to Human Rights Watch. Youtube

Syrian President Bashar Assad
Syrian President Bashar Assad

(CBS News) The civil war raging across Syria has seen accusations of atrocities from both sides.

In the latest, and some of the most damning accusations to date, The Atlantic published a report on Wednesday detailing incidents of extreme sexual abuse, including rape, allegedly at the hands of regime forces. 

Stories and data were collected and analyzed by a team led by the  Women's Media Center over the past three months for the project. It includes second- and third-party reports on horrific torture with graphic detail, allegedly by Syrian soldiers and the feared "shabiha" militiamen. While the reports of rape have not been independently verified, interviews were conducted with Syrian women both inside and outside of the country.

Writer Lauren Wolfe described some of the stories as being, "At the extreme edge of nightmares." Wolfe is also the director of the WMC's Women Under Siege project, which continues to document these reports from Syria on a crowd-sourced map.

Mortar fire reported in central Damascus
Top Syrian diplomat abandons Assad regime
Annan says Assad discussed transition

According to the report, 81 stories of rape or other sexual abuse and torture have been documented, but many more were left out, due to the vagueness of the claims and the difficulty verifying claims made in a country where independent journalism has been banned.

The project has found that women, men and children have allegedly been raped, but 80 percent of the victims are said to have been Syrian women.

"Our data, though largely anecdotal, gives us a sense of the scope and impact of sexualized violence in Syria. It appears to be widespread, not limited to any particular city, and often involves rape," reads the Atlantic report. "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," according to Karestan Koenen, an epidemiologist at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

Many of the stories involve vicious claims of gang-rape, often resulting in the death of the women involved. The most horrific of the claims detailed by the project come from teenage girls who allege they were held for days on end by regime forces and given injections every day to immobilize them while their genitals were burned and mutilated.

Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Karestan Koenen as an M.D.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.