Since March 2011, more than 1 million people, mostly men, have been arrested, detained, and tortured by regime forces. A groundbreaking new study reveals the evolution of disturbing and previously unreported long-term symptoms following detention, sexual violence, and torture in a conflict setting. In this study, Syrian men detained during the civil war showed increasing rates of anger, distrust, and self-isolation in interviews conducted years after release. This research urgently informs the design and delivery of support services and health care for men in conflict settings across the world. 

The study, Long-term physical and psychological symptoms in Syrian men subjected to detention, conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), and torture: cohort study of self-reported symptom evolution, was published in eClinical Medicine, a Lancet journal.  Researchers from Synergy for Justice, Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights, and the University of Galway examined the self-reported symptoms experienced after male CRSV in Syrian state detention over a ten-year period (2011-2021). 

Men in the study reported a wide range of traumatic experiences during detention, including being punched, kicked, hit with objects, tortured with multiple devices, burned, and threatened with rape and death, among other forms of violence. Shockingly, 97% reported forced nudity, 45% direct violence to the genitals or anus, 30% collective sexual humiliation, and nearly 10% rape during detention. Despite the horrific nature of the torture, this study uniquely documents the long-term psychological and physical effects of multiple types of torture, not just immediately after detention but for years.

The evolution of self-reported symptoms indicates that while acute physical and psychological conditions fade, over 50% of the men report that avoidance, intrusive memories, lack of trust, self-isolation, chronic pain, anger, and low self-esteem increased over time. Notably, around a quarter of the men also reported erectile dysfunction and faced challenges with sexual and marital relations.

This study was funded by the United Kingdom Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and the Arts and Humanities Research Council through the project 'Understanding and Addressing the Impact of Invisibility on Conflict-Related Male Sex Violence in Syria.'

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