A Syrian refugee cleans a boy's face outside a tent at Bab al-Salam refugee camp in Azaz, near the Syrian-Turkish border, January 13, 2013. (Photo : Reuters)
Women fleeing Syria say fear of rape at the hands of soldiers fighting in the two-year civil war is the main reason they are leaving the country, according to a report by the International Rescue Committee.
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"The victims are primarily women and girls who are attacked in public, at roadblocks or in their homes by armed men," said The Washington Post.
"Family members are often forced to watch, according to the report, and gang rape is not uncommon. Meanwhile, it says, there is an 'alarming lack' of medical and psychological support for survivors of these brutal attacks."
The report does not say whether the rapes are being committed by soldiers loyal to the regime, the rebels, or both, compounding the issue or social stigmas attached to rape victims.
"No one wants to talk about it, because in a conservative society it is shameful to talk about it," said Hiba Alhaji, founder of the Free Syrian Women Organization. "They don't understand how these ladies are not to blame."
Rebel forces have been fighting against the authoritarian regime of Bashar al-Assad for 21 months. More than 60,000 people have been killed in the fighting and over 600,000 people have fled the country. Violence is rampant and civil society is breaking apart.
"I told them not to look out the window anymore. It didn't help," said a young woman to NPR News. "When they raided the house next door, we could hear the rape of my neighbor, my friend. And then they arrested my brother and tortured him for days."
In an effort to protect young women and girls, some families are marrying them off in the hopes that having a husband will provide some safety.
"They rape girls who are as young as her in Syria now," said the father of a 14-year-old child bride. "I will not feel okay if I do not see her married to a decent man who can protect her."