Sexual violence against women, girls, men and boys has been a characteristic of the Syrian conflict from its inception. It has been most commonly reported in the context of house searches, hostage-taking, in detention and at checkpoints. In interviews with female refugees in neighbouring countries, fear of rape is cited as a major factor influencing their flight from the Syrian Arab Republic. However, it is extremely difficult to obtain reliable data on conflict-related sexual violence owing to prevailing insecurity, the fear of stigma and reprisals, the lack of specialized, safe and confidential services and challenges in accessing services where they are available.
Since mid-2014, there has been a significant increase in the number of reported cases of sexual violence perpetrated by terrorist groups, in particular ISIL. During its August 2014 attack on Sinjar, in northern Iraq, ISIL abducted hundreds of Yezidi women and girls. Some of the abductees were taken into the Syrian Arab Republic and “sold” in markets across Ar-Raqqa, to be used as sex slaves. Reports also indicate that forced marriage to foreign fighters has become increasingly common in territory controlled by ISIL. This phenomenon has also been observed in internally displaced persons camps and in neighbouring countries, where refugee communities have resorted to measures such as child marriage, removal from school and physical confinement to “protect” daughters and wives.
In many countries of the region, the penal code includes marriage as a form of “reparation” for rape survivors, and some settings have seen a significant increase in polygamy since the crisis. On 27 April, UN Women launched a report, “We just keep silent”, on gender-based violence among Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The report cited increased levels of sexual harassment and commercial sex in and around camps. Similar reports were received concerning the plight of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. Women and girls, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals, have been subjected to sexual assault and harassment at checkpoints controlled by armed groups and in the context of detention.