Women’s sexual exploitation in the Syrian civil war

Karolina Krukowska

Almost two years of a brutal and bloody civil war in Syria has resulted in the displacement of  more than two and a half million Syrians. They are all in an urgent need of assistance, be it food, water or electricity supplies. Women and girls are among the most vulnerable. According to a report delivered by The International Rescue Committee (January 2013) they are subject to horrific physical and sexual violence. Unfortunately, their suffering rarely makes the headlines.

Raped with rat

The sexual violence accompanies virtually every current conflict and Syria is no exception here, where the situation of women and girls is extremely difficult. As we can read in the report, interviewed Syrian refuges admitted that rape is the main reason why women leave the country. They are attacked either in public or at home often in front of their family members. There are many cases of women who were kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed. The Women Under Siege in Syria project (WUS hereafter), which is run by the United States based Women’s Media Center, curated 133 reports of abuse, rape, and sexual violation of Syrians, both genders.

”One woman described an assault on another prisoner, which she witnessed. “He pushed a rat in her vagina. She was screaming. Afterwards we saw blood on the floor. He told her: ‘Is this good enough for you?’ They were mocking her. It was obvious she was in agony. We could see her. After that she no longer moved.”

This is one of the dreadful stories of Syrian women who suffered from sexual violation. Others are equally dramatic. Witnesses report to the SNHR that security personnel would urinate in the mouths of female detainees to break their will. What is more, a detainee said that she was not allowed to use pads during her period. It led her to sanitize herself using trash, which resulted in developing a “reproductive disease.” There are cases of female prisoners being questioned while naked in separate cells.

“They smelled rotten, like death”

Unfortunately, sexual violation has became a gang-rapes matter. In the report there was a case of a young girl who was “forced to stagger home naked” after being violated by a group of men. It was supposed to bring shame in a society, where modesty is of great value. Another young girl, a witness to her mother’s death reported:

“Three faces got close to mine, and many hands started touching my body. Within seconds I was naked. I tried to fight back. I was trembling like a slaughtered hen. Their arms were like octopus arms squeezing me. I eventually stopped moving. I felt paralyzed. I felt like I was suffocating. They smelled rotten, like death. They shouted, ‘You want freedom? This is freedom, freedom, freedom.’ One monster hit me on the face and kicked my body. He stepped on my chest and I heard my bones cracking. Pain felt like a fire whipping me. I heard them cursing my screaming mom, ‘Shut up, you….’”

The SNHR‎ documented the death of 3,517 Syrian women, 1,079 being underage. 495 females are currently being detained, 27 of those not older than 18 years of age.

Pleasure marriages

Unfortunately, due to stigma and social norms around “dishonor” which rape brings, women are not willing to report the crimes they were subject to. Many of them are afraid also of retribution of the torturers. The reason for keeping the crimes in secret is also a fear of being killed by a family member in a case they would find out about rape, as it is considered a dishonor for them. IRC reported a father who killed her daughter in order to avoid a disgrace when a soldier approach her. However, even before the civil war in Syria women were killed because of bringing shame. There have also been cases of suicide when the shame seems to be unbearable. The famous one is about a girl in Latakia who killed herself by jumping off the balcony after she was raped.

In order to avoid a shame of being raped girls are forced by families to get marry as soon as possible. It is unthinkable how family members let their female relative suffer in such a way. However, as Hassan Hassan writes “It was also triggered by clerics such as Sheikh Adnan Arour, a hardline Syrian cleric, who has issued fatwas (Islamic decrees-permitting the sexual exploitation of minors) to encourage men to marry victims of sexual assault and „cover their shame” through marriage.” In fact, it has just led to even more sexual abuse. These marriages are so called ‘pleasure marriages’ [Nikah al-Mut’ah] which allow men to marry for a limited period, for example 30 minutes. No divorce is required. This form of marriage is nothing but a rape, legalized prostitution. There are 14 and 15 year old girls who are forced into such marriages.

100 dinars for a Syrian wife

It is common to see requests by men „seeking marriage from Syrian girls” on Arabic online forums. Hassan Hassan of The National reported in September of 2012 that “girls are reportedly being taken from refugee camps in Jordan. Saudi Arabia is most often named as the destination, but a similar trend is reported in other countries including Iraq and Turkey. [..] Maher Abu Tair, a Jordanian columnist, wrote: „All we hear these days is stories about a Syrian wife who can be bought for 100 dinars ( around 100 Euro). One could go to any of the areas of Al Mafraq, Amman, Ramtha, Irbid or Karak to pick for himself a Levantine houriya.” (A Levantine houriya, or virgin, is a reference to women from the Levant known in Arab cultures for their beauty). He added that people are encouraged by the speedy, cheap and conditions-free marriages.” Also in Egypt the number of Syrian women who have married Egyptian men has increased rapidly. They all claim they do it in a good faith in order to take care of dishonoured Syrian women.

What should be done

As for recommendations of the report concerning help of women and girls in Syria, one of the most important points is to prioritize the gender-based violence crisis. International donors should treat that issue with special attention. They also should also increase funding for survivors, specialized medical care, emotional support, safe accomodation and safety and prevention information alongside augmentation of protection of vulnerable women and girls. More effective cooperation between international donors, U.N. and local organizations to increase the quality and quantity of services is of utmost importance. Syrian activists who fight for women’s rights also need more support.

The issue of women’s exploitation is also not widely publicized. We have to speak up on behalf of all of the harmed women and bring their suffering to an end. Your voice can also be heard. Please share this article and let other people know what is happening around us.




















Relationship between Poland and Germany – once and now

 Joanna Górska

Not a long time ago, many Poles haven’t imagined that the Poles could collaborate with the Germans in any area of life. Historical events over the centuries for example Partitions of Poland in 18th century, World War II, which broke out about 75 years ago caused that many Poles are very sceptical coming to the term „Polish – German cooperation”. Experiences of our ancestors meant that in the past there was a hatred of Poles to our close neighbour. When you ask an adult Pole, from what you associate with Germany, a lot of people won’t say about the artist Sebastian Bach, a poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe or an artist Ludwig van Beethoven. The first thought occurs – Hitler. Why? Because there was so much hatred to Polish nation (but especially Jews), which led to unimaginable destruction, not only construction but also mental. To this day, there are a lot of prejudice, hostility and hatred.


Nobody talks about the fact that many Germans were killed during the war by opposing Hitler. One example is the story of Sophie and Hans Scholl siblings, who belonged to a secret grouping „The White Rose”, which by distributing leaflets at the University of Munich for the content of the anti-Nazi and other activities to urging others to sabotage.


Researches from CBOS found that after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Poles speak so positively about the Germans. We can’t change the past, but stereotypes are slowly overturning.


Poles taste of German „Bratwurst, Bockwurst and Wiener”, the different types of sausages and German beer while the Germans are very satisfied with Polish „pierogi” and „bigos”. In Warsaw, there is one restaurant which import specifically sausage from Germany.


Also very evident is the desire for economic cooperation between the two countries. Poles have demonstrated a willingness to catch up with the economic level of our neighbor, as they show a willingness to cooperate on the ground. Entrance to the European Union meant that the Poles stopped feel „inferior”. The labour market in both countries is open to the neighbor, not treating him as someone with special conditions.


Collaboration between Poles and Germans is seen most frequently among young people. Now, there are foundations (such as the Polsko- Niemiecka Fundacja Młodzieży), as well as associations and institutes that offer scholarships such as the Poles GFPS – Gemeinschaft für studentischen Austausch in Mittel-und Osteuropa or DAAD – Deutsche Dienst Akademische Austausch with our western neighbor. The first association also offers scholarships for Germans in Poland. Learning the German language by the Poles is not unusual, but I’ve noticed and I was also shocked that the Germans want to learn Polish. Even two years ago, I had no idea that our Western neighbors have such an ambitious goal, to learn vocabulary, difficult Polish grammar, read books related to the history of Polish. Show enormous interest in language and cultural exchange by participating in a variety of cultural events, conferences and seminars organized by the above institutions.


In my opinion contacts on a personal level, that is meeting people, building relationships helps break any stereotypes, and may prove to be more valuable than the relationship at the political level. I believe that Polish – German friendship is possible, but it is a necessary to get rid all of prejudices. I think that it is worthwhile to engage in the international organizations life to experience that, what was not previously known.



1. http://natemat.pl/33943,polacy-i-niemcy-miedzy-nami-dobrze-jest-coraz-wiecej-sympatii-w-stosunkach-polsko-niemieckich

2. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geschwister_Scholl