Sexual torture in Syrian detention centers: Painful truth needs no exaggeration

A woman in Syrian regime detention centers (Illustration/Syrians for Truth and Justice)

A woman in Syrian regime detention centers (Illustration/Syrians for Truth and Justice)

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Enab Baladi – Lujain Mourad

“One media outlet asked me to talk about tying women from their breasts as one of the methods of sexual torture to which women are subjected.”

This is what Saba, 35, one of the women who experienced detention in one of the Air Force Intelligence branches of the Syrian regime forces, had told Enab Baladi to show the other side of the media’s talk about sexual torture in detention centers.

Documenting violations committed inside detention centers contributes to condemning the Syrian regime. Highlighting this issue is necessary to preserve the true narrative and to emphasize the humanitarian responsibility of the international community and civil society organizations towards detainees.

Over the past years, numerous media programs have appeared in the Syrian media to convey the testimonies of those who survived detention.

Despite the great impact of talking about crimes committed inside prisons, the media were abuzz with incidents of sexual torture that amounted to “exaggeration” and were met with skepticism on social media.

The truth is enough

Dozens of human rights organizations have worked over the past years to issue reports documenting violations committed inside prisons in Syria according to a methodical and scientific approach.

Several reports contained evidence condemning the Syrian regime and revealing the methods of torture used, including sexual torture.

These evidence and other facts experienced by the detainee are sufficient to expose the “brutality” of the Syrian regime, according to the founder of the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison (ADMSP), Diab Sariya, during an interview with Enab Baladi in its office in Istanbul when he criticized the exaggeration when it comes to detention details, especially those related to sexual torture.

“When you get out, no one will believe you,” a phrase that most of those who have experienced detention have heard repeatedly,” Sariya added. He described the “acts of barbarism and brutality” committed inside detention centers, which makes the facts evidence condemning the Syrian regime without the need for exaggeration, as he put it.

Saba (who declined to reveal her full name for security reasons), a survivor of detention, believes that refuting exaggerations and insisting on sticking to the truth is not a denial of the regime’s crimes but rather an assertion that what the detainee has experienced is a real crime that does not require lying or exaggeration to be proven, as she put it.

Survivor Noura al-Haboul’s view of sexual torture is not different, considering that violations of the regime and incidents of sexual torture are undeniable, but they should not be generalized, and proof does not require exaggeration on behalf of the victims.

Why exaggerate?

Talking about sexual assaults in prisons bears the sensitivity of society’s perception of the matter. However, it is one of the most prominent violations that are often labeled with exaggeration.

This is what the founder of ADMSP, Diab Sariya, attributed to the desire of the media and survivors to highlight their issues and attract attention to them.

Saba also said that many survivors, as well as the media, believed that exaggeration could bring justice to their cause.

“The regime carried out offensives using chemical weapons, and no one has spoken a word,” said Saba, who considered that the real problem and the reasons for the international community’s silence was not the magnitude of the catastrophe experienced by Syrians and that exaggerating sexual torture would not solve the problem.

The media is responsible

The media’s work is regulated by means of professional ethics, most notably credibility and transparency, as well as standards of handling sources.

Failure to adhere to these ethics in a case such as sexual torture is a major detriment to the victim and recipient of information.

Recounting the details of sexual torture and other methods of torture is deemed as re-traumatizing the survivors and the families of detainees, Diab Sariya said.

Sariya added that sexual torture is a gravely sensitive matter for society and that the lack of accuracy and professionalism in dealing with the issue by the media was turning into harm, the impact of which will be evident over time.

Sariya held the media responsible for verifying survivors’ accounts, especially in the case of devising methods of torture that are, in his words, different from all those known to everyone.

Detention survivor Noura al-Haboul considered that it was the responsibility of the media, in this case, to reveal what was happening in detention centers, provided that it preserved its credibility and that its objective was not limited to providing “influential media material,” as she put it.

Psychological support specialist at ADMSP within the Family Center project, Salwa Orabi, said that the experience of sexual abuse during detention is one of the most difficult and most impactful types of torture on the survivor, as it targets the privacy and dignity of the human being.

“Talk in media about sexual torture makes women who have been subjected to this type of torture feel shame and develop self-blame if it is not carried out within a specialized scientific framework.”

Salwa Orabi, Psychological support specialist at the Association of Detainees and the Missing Persons in Sednaya Prison (ADMSP) within the Family Center project

When certain media outlets force women to recount such horrible experiences leads to the reliving of violations to which they were subjected during detention, which pushes back the chance to overcome the impact of the said violations even further, according to Orabi.

Many scientific methods exist when talking about a similar experience since victims must not be motivated or encouraged to give details about this experience, added Orabi.

The speakers also hold a responsibility towards the survivors through their reactions to their speech, as they play a role in providing the survivors with a safe space and assisting them in avoiding feelings of guilt and self-blame.

The psychological support specialist indicated that women who have been subjected to this violation need physical and psychological treatment first and foremost.

“Exaggerations undermine a large part of the arrest narrative and open the door to skepticism and exaggeration by one person that exposes all other detainees’ narratives to the risk of questioning and falsification.”

Diab Sariya, Founder of the Association of Detainees and the Missing Persons in Sednaya Prison (ADMSP)

Some 154,398 people, including 5161 children and 10,159 women, remain under arrest or enforced disappearance by the parties to the conflict and the dominant forces in Syria from March 2011 until August 2022, according to a Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) report issued on 30 August.

In another report, SNHR documented some 11,523 incidents of sexual violence against females by parties to the conflict from March 2011 to March 2022, including 8013 incidents perpetrated by Syrian regime forces.

 

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