‘They stripped my clothes off and did their worst’, Shandana uses an alias, afraid of revealing her identity, as she tells us about her detention, torture and rape by Syrian regime forces.
She is one of seven women, all with similar stories, which TRT World meets at an undisclosed location close to the Turkey Syria border.
Wearing large dark glasses, that cover most of her face, Shandana tells us her journey from a suburb of Damascus to Assad’s torture chamber.
“At the beginning of the revolution, I was helping with relief work with opposition activists. The regime considered this as a terrorist activity.”
“I now wish they had tortured me like a man, at least I could live with myself”, she said.
Shandana’s story is similar to that of Mariam Khilif, one of the other women – the only one who agreed to reveal her identity.
Mariam was a nurse in Hama when a military intelligence unit detained her. “They hung me up from my hands for three days, then pulled my teeth out using pliers and then they did things to me no human could imagine.”
As she told her story, Mariam broke down several times, crying, as she recollected that time in her life in 2013.
“These are women who have lost everything,” said Ali Zeer, a Syrian lawyer, now living in Turkey. Zeer has documented eighty-five cases of women who said they were raped and tortured by regime forces.
“They would make women watch gang-rapes of both men and women. It would have the desired affect”, said Zeer. He told us that women would readily confess to crimes they did not commit and would also implicate family members in anti-regime activities.
“The screams were the worst”, said a woman in a white scarf. She spoke of women being humiliated in front of her. “They’d tie the women to beds posts and then a man called Azrael would go around with a sharp-ended stick. There was blood everywhere”, said the woman in the white scarf.
“They’d say anything, admit to any crime to avoid a similar fate” said Zeer the lawyer. But a confession was often the beginning, not the end of a victims struggle.
Once released the survivors were abandoned by their families. In many cases husbands would divorce survivors for dishonoring the family.
“This would happen even if the women had not been raped”, said Zeer.
He says in some cases women even contemplated suicide. “They will live with severe trauma for the rest of their lives”, he said.
“We lost everything. We lost our families and our children”, said Shandana with tears trickling beneath her large sunglasses.