BEIRUT — Syrian government forces are using widespread sexual violence to humiliate and silence male prisoners, psychologists and a monitoring group said Monday, offering a rare window into a form of abuse rarely discussed by its survivors.
Eight years after the start of Syria’s uprising, more than 100,000 detainees remain unaccounted for, most of them in Syrian government custody. According to the United Nations and human rights groups, torture and abuse are systematic, and thousands, if not tens of thousands, of those detainees are probably dead.
But while many forms of abuse are well-documented, the men who emerge from Syrian government cells — often after years of neglect in near-total darkness — rarely discuss the levels of sexual violence they encountered, and little psychological help is available for survivors.
According to a report released Monday by Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights, a Syrian rights group, security forces have used rape and enforced sterilization, as well as the tying, burning and mutilation of men’s genitals, to force confessions and submission.
The abuse has taken place at checkpoints, on journeys to prison and inside interrogation rooms, the group said. Several men said their jailers inserted a water hose into their anus and turned on the tap, causing the prisoners’ bodies to swell up.
There are no accurate statistics for the scale of the sexual abuse inside Syrian custody, in part because survivors are scattered around the world. Former detainees also are often hesitant to report such abuse, particularly when they come from conservative communities in which discussion of sexual violence is
But of 138 people interviewed by LDHR, more than 40 percent reported some form of sexual assault. That figure rose to almost 90 percent when describing instances of forced nudity ordered by their prison guards.
“What is revealed is extensive, pervasive and brutal sexual violence against Syrian political prisoners across time, government security agencies and their detention centers,” the group said. The testimonies were accompanied by medical evaluations. Where possible, experts in treating sexual violence then cross-checked the details from the survivors’ accounts and the evaluations.
In interviews with The Washington Post, dozens of men formerly held in government prisons, particularly in Damascus, described how they were ordered to strip before being severely beaten, or how they spent days lying naked alongside other prisoners in packed and squalid cells. Others reported extreme forms of sexual abuse involving mechanical tools or sharp objects.