Victim blaming: Syrian rape survivors face a double pain

Victim blaming: Syrian rape survivors face a double pain
Comment: Syrian women are blamed when regime troops rape them to punish their families, says Ghalia Shahin.
4 min read
25 May, 2015
Syrian refugees in Turkey have found themselves isolated [Getty]
The release of women from the prisons of the Syrian intelligence services rarely means the end of their ordeal.

It all too often means they are then punished by their families and society for what they have endured in prison.

Syrian society blames the victims of rape, or even those suspected of being raped, or who have put themselves in a position in which they might have been raped - punishing them and not their attackers.

From the moment she is released, society accuses female detainees of being raped - as if that is something of which to "accuse" someone - even if they were not raped. The sentence society imposes on women who are raped ranges from ostracism to death.
The Syrian regime uses rape to terrorise and humiliate women and the men related to them.

Interpretations of religious texts rarely absolve rape victims of responsibility for being raped, and much of Syrian society has taken to dealing with rape as it deals with adultery.

Similar sentences are often handed out to adulterers and rape victims alike.

Rape as a weapon of war

The Syrian regime uses rape to terrorise and humiliate women and the men related to them. However, even though Syrians know the despicable aims of the regime, it has not changed the harsh treatment it inflicts on the women and girls who have found themselves inside Assad's jail cells.

The prevailing view is that their rape is a shame; a shame that should be hidden, and sometimes "eliminated".

Society here ostracises these victims, instead of giving them psychological or other forms of support. All detainees need this support, whether they were raped in detention or not, to help them recover and resume their normal lives.

Sometimes society feigns support for these women by proposing harmful reactionary solutions that only deepen their psychological trauma and hurt. This further entrenches their double victimhood, punished by their rapists then punished by society for being raped.

An 'honourable' solution

A victim's relative will sometimes volunteer to marry her - to provide her with shelter and protection, the corrupt understanding being that no other man would be likely to want to marry a rape victim. Society celebrates this "offer" as a selfless act on the part of the relative.

I don't want to cast doubt on the good intentions and honourable motives of people who make such offers, but "solutions" like this are clearly a reflection of broader problems in our society, which deals with women as vessels for men's honour, and not as people in their own right - human beings who have endured a horrible ordeal.

Many former detainees agree to such proposals, seeing themselves - an "unweddable daughter" - as a burden on their families, and a burden that could be lessened through such a possibly rare opportunity to get married.

But the psychological trauma remains. Rape survivors generally suffer from deep depression and struggle with self-confidence. They are sometimes unable to return to their normal lives.
Our society... deals with women as vessels for men's honour, and not as people in their own right.

Counterproductive solutions are not limited to the more conservative segments of society, but have also been proposed by women's organisations and groups.

One such organisation, which has refused to speak to the press, has rented a house in the Turkish city of Gaziantep. It has been named "the house of female detainees".

The large house is equipped to receive former Syrian prisoners who have managed to make their way to Turkey, providing them with housing and covering their personal expenses.

While the intentions of those running the house are no doubt good, I believe this is another inadequate solution, arrived at without consultation with psychologists.

Such isolation will only increase the marginalisation of former detainees, instead of encouraging them to reintegrate into society. It treats them as if they are diseased, and need to be contained.

It is yet another solution that deepens the gap between former detainees and normal life - and as such is ultimately counterproductive.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic website.