[London, UK. December 15, 2023] – 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.
Dr. Coleen Kivlahan notes, “This phenomenon is not unique to the Syrian conflict or Syrian men. Sexual violence against men is grossly underreported across the world, especially during conflict. The policy implications of this research are broad and include the downstream impact of the long-term symptoms on families and communities, on the development of prevention and earlier access to outcomes-driven programs for men, and the need for enhanced support for similar longitudinal research. Generations of angry, distrustful, isolated men in conflict settings present risks to their own health, to that of their partners, children, and communities, and to peacebuilding.”
Dr. Ingrid Elliott adds, “This research is striking for a number of reasons. Tracing the evolution of symptoms reported by male CRSV survivors over time and gaining insight into the constellation or grouping of symptoms is vital information for meaningful, life-saving responses. There is a stark reality in the increasing symptoms of anger, loss of trust, isolation, and loss of self-esteem, and the fact that over this extended period, only 3% of the men found support in formal support services. We have to find ways to reduce barriers for men to access assistance, otherwise we will face the real risk of further division, violence and conflict. We hope to follow this publication with insights on why so few men accessed formal support and recommendations on how this could be addressed. Our colleagues at Galway will also publish on the impact of ethical loneliness - the injustice of not being heard or acknowledged for Syrian male CRSV survivors.”
Dr. Mohammad AlSharif states, “The research also stands out for the way it was designed to allow researchers to interview survivors at various points in time, thereby allowing survivors to overcome their inhibitions and open up regarding otherwise taboo subjects for men. Such disclosure enabled recognition of the gaps and barriers which prevent survivors from accessing services and seeking help in addition to helping us better understand resilience factors. The research highlighted the importance of training clinicians on identifying the unique ways in which men adapt to sexual trauma over time. Hence, this could lay the foundation for designing future response programs which help prevent and mitigate severe symptoms which persist years after release.”
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.'
Synergy for Justice is a women-led, multi-disciplinary team working to advance justice and end impunity for torture, sexual violence, and other human rights violations. In collaboration with partner organisations, Synergy for Justice ensures that survivors of torture and sexual violence can access justice, receive the care they need to heal, and fully participate in society.
Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights (LDHR) is a human rights organisation that conducts expert medical documentation for legal proceedings for survivors reporting torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, and sexual violence. Its work to date primarily supports the investigation and prosecution of international crimes in Syria, pursued through the use of extra-territorial criminal jurisdiction in Europe.
The University of Galway has earned international recognition as a research-led university with a commitment to top-quality teaching. Its Irish Centre for Human Rights is one of the world's premier academic human rights institutions, dedicated to the study of human rights, peace and conflict, international criminal law and humanitarian law, international refugee and migration law, gender and human rights and climate justice. The Centre has developed a global reputation for excellence in the field of human rights teaching, research and advocacy.
eClinicalMedicine is part of The Lancet Discovery Science – a suite of open-access journals that spans basic, translational, clinical, and health systems research which publishes essential, early evidence that helps researchers and clinicians alike to identify new opportunities with the potential to improve the health and wellbeing of people around the world. Including this study in a Lancet journal underscores the significance of the research in contributing to our understanding of the long-term impact of conflict-related violence.
For media inquiries or further information, please contact:
Anna Dobrohorska, Communications Officer, Synergy for Justice, [email protected]
[London, UK. June 28, 2022] Synergy for Justice Stichting is pleased to announce the addition of three internationally recognised expert practitioners to its board of directors. Their expertise in international criminal law, transnational organised crime, missing persons, trafficking, and other pressing human rights issues will increase Synergy’s capacity. They will help Synergy ensure survivors of torture and conflict-related sexual violence have the opportunity to hold perpetrators accountable and receive the care they need.
Tejal Jesrani is an international public lawyer with more than 20 years of experience implementing international conventions, capacity building, and research in countering human trafficking, migrant smuggling, and transnational organised crime. She is a Program Officer in the Crime Research Section of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, where she has worked in various roles for 15 years. She is also the head of diversity, equity, and inclusion for Women in Foreign Policy, an organisation that seeks to achieve a foreign policy workforce fully representative of contemporary society.
Niku Jafarnia is a human rights lawyer with expertise in armed conflict and civilian protection in the Middle East and North Africa. She is currently working with the Center for Civilians for Conflict (CIVIC), investigating violations of international law and advocating for civilian protection in the region. Previously, she worked with Mwatana for Human Rights, a Yemeni civil society organisation, to pursue justice for survivors of the Yemeni war in international courts and through research and reporting.
Kathryne Bomberger is a multi-disciplinary expert addressing the global challenge of missing persons with more than 25 years of experience in international relations, human rights, and conflict prevention. Since 1998, she has led the development of the International Commission on Missing Persons, which today is the world’s leading organisation dedicated exclusively to addressing missing persons issues arising from war, human rights violations, migration, organised crime, and other causes. Bomberger has worked in more than 14 conflict and post-conflict countries, helping governments, courts, prosecutors, NGOs, and others to build capacity to address the issue of missing persons.
These experts join founding Board members Christy Fujio and Ingrid Elliott and Strategic Board members Erin Gallagher and Stephanie Barbour on Synergy's oversight team.
Stephanie Barbour, Chair of the Strategic Board of Synergy for Justice Stichting, is excited to see the capacity of the Synergy for Justice team expanding. “Our new board members have considerable experience working in conflict-affected areas and proven expertise innovating ways to support local partners to make meaningful strides towards tackling impunity. I am thrilled to welcome their voices to Synergy.”
Christy Fujio, Executive Director of Synergy for Justice Stichting, says, “It’s an exciting time for Synergy as we are expanding programmes and undertaking local and global initiatives to support survivors of torture and sexual violence as they pursue justice. Our new board members will be a tremendous resource for us going forward. They will provide strategic direction for the organisation as we grow and help us connect to key stakeholders in our field.”
Synergy for Justice Stichting is a dynamic, women-led, multi-disciplinary justice organisation established by seasoned legal and medical practitioners. Synergy directors have developed and enhanced justice processes worldwide.