Syria: 'Imam tells rape victims they deserved to be honoured'

Washington Post

Women Under Siege, a Women’s Media Center project that documents rape and other forms of sexual violence as a weapon of war, launched acrowd-sourced initiative today to map instances of rape in Syria.

As the project gathered reports, director Lauren Wolfe said, it found something striking. “Generally women are shunned when they are raped in war. They sometimes are not allowed to go home, and whole families can be dishonored,” she said. “But what’s really interesting is that we have a report that an imam called for Syrian women who were raped to be honored, for people to embrace them. He said they’re raped and so they are heroes.”

Wolfe said the group found other examples of support for Syrian rape victims. In one instance, Syrian men offered to marry women who were raped to help restore their honor. In June, The Post’s Gul Tuysuz reported that a group of Syrian men in a village near the Turkish border had similarly pledged to marry four sisters they had never met who were allegedly raped by pro-government militiamen.

In a video address, Sheikh Adnan Aeraour, the imam Wolfe cited, encourages victims of rape to accept offers of marriage:

“I am telling you, and I hope you are listening, these girls and women whose chastity was attacked should be honored. I am giving you a religious ruling, a fatwa... Every girl or woman who got raped, this is an honor and like a medal. People will ask to marry them, and will love them. People from the revolution and others... I hope she is not sad... She will have great rewards from God.”

Watch the imam’s address to Syrian women (in Arabic) below:

While Women Under Siege has discovered examples of support for Syrian rape victims, there are few, if any, reporting systems that can comprehensively answer the question of how many rape victims there are in Syria today.

Piecemeal reports by Amnesty International and the United Nations, however, suggests that the problem is extensive and affects both men and women.

Women Under Siege hopes to work with survivors, witnesses, doctors and human rights workers in and around Syria to report and verify sexual assaults. The group has encouraged people to submit personal or secondhand reports of sexual abuse by e-mail, on Twitter using the hashtag #RapeinSyria, or on its Web site.

In that way, the endeavor resembles one in Egypt called HarassMap, which encourages Egyptian women to report instances of abuse by calling, texting, e-mailing or tweeting using the hashtag #harassmap.

Both initiatives have a number of security measures in place to protect the identities of women who share reports — though they acknowledge those measures aren’t perfect.

On its launch day today, Women Under Siege has about 20 reports of sexual abuse in Syria. Wolfe is confident they can get many more. Syria Tracker, a Web site that also uses crowd-sourced technology to document human rights abuses in Syria, has received more than 11,000 reports. Once it has enough reports, the group hopes its documentation can be used as evidence of war crimes.

“We often hear about deaths and detentions in Syria. But we don’t hear about rape, because women are stigmatized or killed after they are raped,” says Wolfe. “It’s the most twisted reporting situation, to get any accurate information out of Syria.... A major goal is just to put this [issue] into the spotlight.”