Thank You, Deeply

Dear Women & Girls Community,

We are excited to share our plans for the future of women and girls’ coverage at News Deeply.

In January 2018, our Women & Girls page will close as we launch the first of a new set of dedicated platforms that will allow us to dive deeper into the biggest issues affecting women and girls in the developing world.

This first platform – Women’s Advancement Deeply – will cover the pursuit of economic equality for women, from securing gender-equal access to financial services, to fighting for property rights and closing the pay gap.

We’ll also be working to launch other dedicated platforms in this space, and we are currently exploring themes of maternal, sexual and reproductive health, as well as gender-based violence. If these topics are of interest to you, please let us know here – we would love your input as we shape new initiatives.

Our trove of existing Women & Girls coverage will remain available through an archived version of the site, allowing you to explore and reference our published articles dating back to May 2016

Thank you for being part of the Women & Girls community. We look forward to having you join us in our new endeavors in this space.

Sincerely,

Lara Setrakian, CEO and Co-founder, News Deeply
Megan Clement, Managing Editor, Women & Girls, News Deeply

Female Refugees Face ‘Cycle’ of Sexual Violence

In this first installment of a three-part series, we explore the threats faced by female refugees, especially Syrian women – including the risk of being trafficked into the sex trade on their journeys to Europe and even after reaching its shores.

Written by Federica Marsi, Preethi Nallu Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Greece migrants3
A Syrian woman carries her child inside a customs building after their arrival, along with hundreds of others, at the port of Piraeus near Athens, Greece. AP/Petros Giannakouris

Najla sits alone atop a hillock in the Moria reception camp, the main registration point on the Greek island of Lesbos. She is waiting for a friend to come back, she says, then backpedals and shows a cheap ring on her left hand. The 27-year-old claims she has been married for eight years, but never had children. Her story is vague on details and she appears guarded. Being a woman on the move, far away from home and with little support or community, is no easy task.

She fled Iraq when the Islamic State group (ISIS) took hold of her hometown. “I had friends who were raped or forced to marry fighters. I had to escape,” she says.

Together with the man she calls her husband, she joined a group fleeing to Turkey through the mountains of the Kurdistan region. “Every day we lost someone on the way. They either died of hunger or from the cold,” says Najla.

Several months passed in a Turkish refugee camp, with no semblance of a normal life. The inhumane living conditions, together with the lack of future prospects, pushed Najla to attempt the treacherous journey to Europe.

Her only dream now is to reach Germany “and forget all about the past.”

For many refugee women, crossing into Europe has become a step forward in the quest for permanent safety. But these arduous journeys by sea often prove to be the beginning of yet another round of hardship and new forms of sexual violence.

Over the continuing seasons of migration, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, has repeatedly warned about the risks for women and children traveling alone of falling prey to trafficking rackets.

The trafficking rings are often linked to the organized gangs that help to smuggle refugees and migrants into the E.U.

According to Europol, recruitment usually begins in the country of origin, most commonly through deception, and false promises of a better life. The “lover boy” method, in which victims grow emotionally attached to their exploiters, is frequently used by traffickers to manipulate their victims. In these cases, some women may get married to the very men entrapping them.

While these methods are known, governments and aid agencies are struggling to provide adequate protection for these women, especially those who have already experienced abuse in their home countries.

The fact that the women are on the move – and so any one organization is only able to attend to their emergency needs for a limited period as they pass through – has proven an even greater challenge. To keep track of such women is nearly impossible.

Like Najla, many fled when they became direct targets of sexualized violence at the hands of armed groups such as Islamic State. In Syria, cases of sexual abuse and torture have become normalized practice in detention facilities.

As far back as 2012, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued reports that detailed accounts from “witnesses” and “victims” of “soldiers and pro-government armed militias sexually abuse[ing] women and girls as young as 12 during home raids and military sweeps of residential areas.” These raids have continued over the years, but have become increasingly difficult to corroborate.

In December 2015, following repeated accounts of sexual violence, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, asked for the U.N. and the International Committee of the Red Cross to be given regular access to Syrian regime detention centers “as a signal of commitment to the peace process.”

She also pointed to ISIS’s targeting of minority groups and use of “sex slaves” to consolidate power, and called on all parties to the Syrian conflict to refrain from using sexual violence as a “tactic of war, a tactic of terrorism and an instrument of torture.” Yet there is little accountability and the rates of sexual violence are nearly impossible to ascertain.

In April 2013, the richest countries in the world, as members of the G8, made a vow to “shrink, and then to eradicate, safe havens for those responsible for war zone rape.” The declaration was hailed as historic, unprecedented and a milestone in addressing “history’s oldest and least condemned crime.”

The group made a commitment toward developing a “comprehensive international protocol on the investigation and documentation of rape and sexual violence in conflict.” They sought additional “resources available globally to combat sexualviolence in conflict.”

But the development of effective mechanisms to investigate sexual crimes does not depend simply on financial resources. Several human-rights groups including the International Rescue Committee contend that what is needed is an internationally supported approach that curbs such violence without having to spend years of wrangling to establish “proof” that the rapes being perpetrated constitute “war crimes.”

The greatest challenge is that rape is the most under-reported crime in the world and even in countries such as the United Kingdom, where the G8 pledge was made, only 15 percent of women and girls report rape. For those like Najla whose lives have been fraught with risks – including the risk of losing face – such international statements have meant nothing in practice.

Part 2 of this story will follow soon.

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