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Sexual Violence in the Syrian Conflict

The Arab Spring movement in 2011 demonstrated the power of technology like email, texting, and social media to mobilize resistance to autocratic regimes. A year and a half later, the Women's Media Center's Women Under Siege, a human rights group, is working to use the same technology to draw the world’s attention to accounts of rape and sexual violence in a part of the world where the Arab Spring revolution is still being fought: Syria.

The goal is to produce a crowd-sourced map that highlights facts, figures, and stories reported by victims. Faculty member Karestan Koenen, associate professor of Epidemiology serves as lead epidemiologist on the project.

Syria has been in conflict since March of 2011, when anti-government forces began a movement to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and his Ba’ath Party. The fighting has left indelible scars on the country as government and opposition forces battle it out in small towns and large cities. Rape is, sadly, part of the tragic landscape.

Conflict invites this form of violence as “social disorder increases and social norms and morays are broken down,” says Dr. Koenen. “We see increased rates of rape in groups with hyper-masculine identity like the military.”

A Crime of the Ages
There is a long history of rape during times of conflict. In many societies, even as far back as ancient Rome, the rape of the women and children of defeated populations was seen as one of the spoils of war. In modern times, sexual violence continues in war-torn countries, often as a means to dehumanize the enemy. But now more attention is being paid to the causes, the perpetrators, and the victims.

The map is similar to Syria Tracker, a crowd-sourced effort that records the number of people missing, killed, or arrested during the war. Over the past 18 months, that site has tallied more than 23,000 killings. While the numb