But the rebels have their own detention centers, too, and human-rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented abuse in those facilities. And as I learned, rape, or the threat of rape, has become a daily reality in Syria.
In Northern Syria, one young woman told me that she had been imprisoned by the government, and forced to watch the soldiers beating her mother. She was partially stripped, blindfolded, and tied to a chair. At a safe house in Turkey, near the Syrian border, I was introduced to a year-old Sunni woman named Nada whose ordeal was especially horrific because of the length of her detention.
I've changed her name here to protect her identity. A member of a Syrian youth organization allied with rebel forces, she told me she had witnessed and been subjected to vast human-rights abuses, including repeated beatings, while imprisoned by the government. At one point she was hit in the face with such force that her orthodontia broke through her skin. I wondered how such a fragile-looking young woman could endure months of abuse. Her waist was minuscule. Her head was covered with a lavender hijab, and she wore a thick sweater over her tight jeans, but you could see the thin outline of her almost adolescent body.
It requires extreme sensitivity to interview victims of rape and other sexual abuses and to verify their accounts. I have spent large amounts of time over two decades collecting information on rape during the conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, often working in collaboration with human-rights organizations.
There is a methodology to collecting data, but mainly one must rely on patience and repeat interviews to make sure details are correct and victims are not changing their stories, exaggerating, or lying. Nada's first days in detention were largely spent without sleep, she said, while she was relentlessly interrogated for names, for dates, for occasions where she had met others in her organization.
She could hear the screams of fellow prisoners being beaten. She was continually threatened with sexual violence. Her interrogators brought her to a cell full of male prisoners in their underwear. She began to scream for them to let her out of the jail. They wanted to break me. Finally, I said, 'O. For eight months Nada was held at various prisons and detention centers, a journey that finally ended in one of the most renowned torture centers in Damascus.
So she cannot say it. At one point during a detailed interview that lasted hours, while Nada described being forced to watch a male prisoner being sodomized, she ran from the room and vomited. When she came back, she shook for several minutes and was silent. In appearance, she seemed to shift from a young girl to an old and debilitated woman.
She is not sure why she was finally set free. One day, the jailers just told her to gather her things and go. The prospect of marriage and children seems distant if not impossible for her. Inside Syria, on the road toward the destroyed and ravaged Aleppo, I met opposition soldiers who passed along accounts of women who had been raped in various villages by the Shabiha. The stories were always the same: the Shabiha came after the heavy fighting ended, cleared out the houses, stole what was left, beat the men, and, in some cases, raped the women.
But most people would have fled by the time the Shabiha arrived — if they could get away. Near Idlib province, where active battles were raging, civilians were fleeing the fighting. When I met refugees from there, they told me about the fear they had for their daughters and wives and their vulnerability to rape. Unfortunately, when I returned in hopes of speaking to some of the women, they had been moved elsewhere because of fierce local fighting.
It takes courage to pursue such a task in Aleppo.
Hidden truths, unspoken lies. – Fragments from a Half Life
The city is an apocalyptic place, with stinking piles of trash rotting in the wan sunlight, with children whose eyes are empty and haunted and whose hands reach toward you in hopes of money or food. The sound of bombs detonating is constant; people no longer cower with fear. Toys lie crushed under piles of rubble. There is violation from both sides. The government side is guilty because of the number of people in detention. And the opposition side has their own courts, and we are also hearing many cases of rape committed by the rebels.
But there is no end. It's not that women are less empowered, or anything, it's just that society in general shames us for being honest about our sexuality. Do you think in light of what continues to happen in South Africa to women, is a matter of not understanding what consent is, fundamentally? People understand consent, especially when the power dynamic is changed, and suddenly they [men] are the ones with less power, or less autonomy in that situation—suddenly they understand what rights are about, or what consent is about.
It's not a lack of understanding really because consent is not just about sex which is what I stress in the book. It's about talking, and understanding consent for everything, including sex. People do understand consent, and this is why when you talk about sexual violence, or harassment, we always stress the point that it's about power and people generally do things they know they can get away with.
It's something that we need to continue to tell children and our women especially because even if we look at romantic movies, if you look at a lot of content around sex, and romance, you really never see consent being actively sought. So even the content that's being created and normalized, is missing a lot of key points around consent. T on her book "A guide to sexual health and pleasure" www. Gender-based violence is widespread.
What do you think contributes to South Africa's particular brand of gender-based violence and alarming rape statistics? I think it's because there aren't any consequences. You live in a country where there aren't any consequences for any crime. Literally, anybody can get away with anything, and that speaks to a general problem of policing, of the justice system, and the fact that there isn't enough preventive measures. Everyone is good at diagnosing the problem, everyone reacts to the statistics, but nobody is willing to put their money on prevention. Prevention encompasses comprehensive sex education in schools which is, however, being opposed by Christian political parties.
This is despite research that shows that comprehensive sex education is actually a good life skill to have. You also live in a society where the default setting to solve anything, is violence. Equally, language is important. I always say if you're talking about rape, you must talk about rape. There's no "underage sex", there's nothing like that. It's rape. If you still use the word "sex" to describe rape, that's part of the problem.
What Happened to the Revolution: Spoken Words of Unspoken Truth
Do you think that the government is really tackling this issue as aggressively as they should? Nah, not if you look at the levels of rape, violence and everything that's happening in the country. It doesn't make sense how we are still carrying on as if life is normal. This is not the first we've had crime stats that suggest that rape is out of control. It's been decade after decade, year after year, month after month and day after day.
There is no urgency at all. We're just trying to get to work, get home, get to school, and get back home but you could be a victim at all of these places. Can you imagine the psychology of trying to be a person in South Africa, who could potentially be raped every single day regardless of where you are? The 1 billion Rand set aside by government is for this financial year. The financial year is coming to an end in March, and then what's going to happen? They must just stop raping.
fitorchpatisal.cf That's what they must do. I think all of us are just exhausted from this whole thing, but I think at the end of the day, we also can't let them steal all our joy. Which I think for me is important about the book. We are going to have to re-normalize, and center women's pleasure, and show the power that women have over their own body again.
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Otherwise, the trap that we end up falling into is that we are going to speak about the violence as if that's the only experience that we've ever had. That's why again, I suppose it's a part of the pleasure revolution to say that, even in this crisis, even with all of that's going on, we do know what is good for our bodies. We do know what sexual expression is, we do know what healthy consensual relationships are. It's precisely because we know those things, that we are demanding better.
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There's a section on sexual rights at the end of your book and I know you're a huge advocate in terms of sex work, and getting sex work decriminalized in South Africa. What's the best way to have society get around the idea? We don't care how they get around it. We want human rights for sex workers. We don't have to understand every single aspect of a person's life for us to then be like, "Oh, now because we understand it, you can have human rights". Human rights don't work that way.