DAMASCUS – Last December, Alaa was laid down on an interrogator’s bed, her hands tied and her legs spread apart.
He climbed on top of her, his body against her small frame, and whispered in her ear, “It’s time for you to redeem your sins. You have done injustice to the motherland.” And so, she says, she was raped by a 50-year-old interrogator at the Military Security Branch in Homs.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights has already recorded the deaths of 11,000 women in Syria as a direct result of the three-year conflict. During this time, there have been more than 7,500 recorded cases of sexual violence.
In 2011, the then 20-year-old Alaa and her family moved from Homs to Damascus. There, she volunteered to deliver aid to internally displaced Syrians – a decision she says led to her two rapes in government prisons.
On July 11, 2012, she was arrested in the Baramkeh area of Damascus while returning from work. On her first day in detention at Branch 215, she says was beaten black and blue by the head of the branch. He was enraged when he saw that she had an expensive mobile phone, while his was simple and cheap. “All of this [beating] is because of your protests,” he screamed.
Alaa worried that she would incriminate other opposition members; she was still carrying the papers of displaced families. In prison, a 50-year-old female detainee agreed to help her tear up the documents and eat them. Alla was then taken to the search room, undressed and delivered to the 60-year-old interrogator’s room where she was forced to perform oral sex, she says, “until he was satisfied. I walked into cell number 13 and I found three women, all of whom were crying. There was Hiba from Daraa, who became like a mother to me. There was Duaa from the Midan area in Damascus, and there was Hanan who had been taken hostage by the security apparatus and detained for over 100 days to force her brothers and father to give themselves up after they defected from the Syrian army,” she says.
“The women knew what had happened to me because they were also sexually assaulted by the same interrogator. That was until he was replaced with a maniac who used to feed his birds while torturing me. He wanted me to confess that I was responsible for the [May 2012] Qazzaz bombing in Damascus [that killed at least 55 people]. For 26 days, they used the most brutal torture and extortion methods to make me confess, but to no avail.”
In August 2012, Alaa was transferred to the Military Security Branch in Homs. At one point, she was hung by the arms for an entire day to force a confession that she had played a role in the bombing of the Malaeb neighborhood in Homs. Not able to stand the pain any longer, Alaa decided to talk. She was taken to the interrogation room where she was asked to admit harboring the families of armed groups and masterminding the bombing.
But she would only confess to carrying aid and taking photographs.
Ten days later, a new interrogator accused Alaa of having a hand in the riots that broke out in the Homs central prison. She says it was then that she was raped for the first time, after being handcuffed and forced to lie on his bed, to endure his assault until he was done with her. Soon, that same interrogator sent her to another man whom she could not identify. She says that he too handcuffed her – to his chair – and raped her. She was sent back to her cell unconscious.
“We heard them dancing in their drunkenness celebrating the New Year. They used the most brutal methods of torture and rape on their detainees, as if they enjoyed our suffering. I wasn’t the only one to be raped,” Alla says. “During my time in prison, I met 28-year-old Khawla who was raped twice: once by the prison guard and once by the interrogator. She became pregnant but refused to share the details of her story as they threatened to kill her if she said anything about it.”
She says that the women’s own bodies were often used to humiliate them. Left without any sanitary products, blood would seep down their legs as other prisoners offered their old, lice-filled shirts as an alternative. She calls it the “ultimate humiliation.”
Last January, her body thin and face sallow, Alaa was released as part of a prisoner swap between the Assad regime and the opposition forces. She now suffers from depression and isolation. Her family remains unaware of her status as a rape victim – she says she does not want to add to their misery.