Islamic State militants and Syrian government officials are routinely mutilating, raping and anally violating gay and trans Syrians, according to a new report by LGBT+ rights group Human Rights Watch.
The 77-page report - They Treated Us In Monstrous Ways: Sexual Violence Against Men, Boys, And Transgender Women In The Syrian Conflict - found that gay and bisexual men, transgender women and nonbinary people were subject to increased violence based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Transgender women are often perceived as gay men in Syria and are targeted for the same reasons.
Commenting, the author of the report, Zeynep Pınar Erdem, said: “Gay and bisexual men, transgender women and nonbinary people said they were targeted for sexual violence during Syria’s conflict for being perceived as ‘soft’. 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.”
Human Rights Watch conducted interviews in Lebanon with 40 gay and bisexual men, transgender women and nonbinary individuals, as well as four heterosexual men who experienced sexual violence in Syria.
Interviewees said they were harassed and sexually abused at checkpoints because they were ‘soft looking’, meaning perceived as effeminate. In detention centres, detainees were subjected to intensified interrogation or torture if their sexual or gender identity was exposed. Sexual violence also took place within the ranks of the Syrian army. Interviewees described being subjected to rape, genital violence, threat of rape, forced nudity and sexual harassment.
Survivors described a range of emotional and psychological symptoms, including symptoms consistent with depression, post-traumatic stress, sexual trauma, loss of hope and paranoid thoughts. They also suffer physically, including severe pain in their rectum and genitals, rectal bleeding and muscle pain, and may have contracted sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
The report also included quotes from survivors detailing the horrors of their experience. Yousef, a 28-year-old gay man, was detained by the Syrian intelligence agencies. He told Human Rights Watch that he was not detained because he was gay, but once his sexual orientation was revealed, sexual violence during interrogations increased drastically. He said: “All the aggression was multiplied by 10, I would say.
"They were happily doing it. They were of course raping us with sticks. They rape you just to see you suffering, shouting. To see you are humiliated. This is what they like to see. They had a stick inside my anus, and they started saying, ‘This is what you like; don’t you like it?’ It went up till my stomach.”
Naila, a 21-year-old transgender woman, described being gang-raped in a central prison as a minor: “They brought the stick of a mop and they inserted it in our anus. A strong bleeding started, and we were mutilated.”
The report’s author, Zeynep Pınar Erdem, added: “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, without diverting funding from services for women and girls.”
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