A new project tracks reports of sexualized violence in Syria, where the attacks appear to be orchestrated by government security forces.
A woman, swathed in black, squares her shoulders and calmly looks into a camera. She holds a Quran. Only a sliver of her face -- her eyeglasses -- shows. "What happened to me hasn't happened to anyone, or if it has affected anyone else I do not know," she says. "But I will speak and let all the people know what [Syrian leader] Bashar al-Assad and his men are doing." Over the next four minutes, her breathing grows labored and her voice breaks as she describes how, in May 2011, five men wearing black entered her home on the outskirts of Homs and raped her.
"This is my message to the world," she says. "Let all the world hear what is happening to us. And I might not be the first one nor the last who was treated in this way."
The still-unidentified woman posted the video to YouTube on February 11, 2012. It is one of the earliest reports on our live, crowd-sourced map of sexualized violence in Syria. The Women's Media Center project Women Under Siege has been collecting reports out of Syria for three months, during which time we've seen many stories similar to this, in which multiple attackers, usually government forces, are said to gang rape a woman in her home. We have also mapped stories at the extreme edge of nightmares; of teenage girls given shots that immobilize them while their genitals were burned or filled with mice. Government forces and others appear to be carrying out appalling sexualized attacks against women, men, and children in Syria as the conflict there continues. Although we are unable to independently confirm these stories -- Syria is simply too dangerous, and our research staff too small -- they are consistent both internally and within the news and NGO reports telling similar stories from the Syrian conflict.