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Cutting-Edge Crowdmap Traces Sexualized Violence in Syria

March 28, 2012

New York, March 28, 2012—The Women’s Media Center project Women Under Siege has begun a pioneering initiative to map personal experiences and secondhand reports of sexualized violence in Syria. Using crowdsourcing technology from Ushahidi, WomenUnderSiegeSyria.crowdmap.com is able to collect the egregiously untold evidence of sexual assaults in real time as the crisis rages—before much of it is lost to shame and silence, as has happened too often during and after armed conflict.

With great caution, this initiative is working with refugee communities in countries bordering Syria to safely measure the exposure women may have had to sexualized violence. Survivors, witnesses, doctors, and human rights workers can report all degrees of sexual assault, its mental and physical consequences, and possible perpetrators via email (siege@womensmediacenter.com), Twitter (#RapeinSyria), or directly to the site.

“Our goal at the Women’s Media Center’s Women Under Siege project is to tell the underreported stories of women’s suffering in conflict,” said Women’s Media Center President Julie Burton. “This effort will provide the media with a remarkable central resource to help them get out the message that these painful, important stories in Syria matter.”

The site has been created in partnership with Dr. Catherine Mullaly, a global health physician and anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. Key collaborators also include Syrian activists who remain anonymous for safety reasons, and Dr. Karestan Koenen, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and president-elect of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies.

“More and better information about conflict-related sexual violence is crucial,” said Margot Wallström, UN special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict. “Talking about this issue is a first step, because only then can we help break what has been called history’s greatest silence. And using modern information technology to this end is very welcome.”

By plotting each story on a map, the project shines a light on the full scale of the war going on in Syria—which includes sexualized violence—and gathers valuable data that can help us detect the population vital signs of the Syrian conflict zone and point aid workers toward existing needs for survivor services.

“This project offers the potential to make a critical impact on the collection of evidence of sexual violence in situations where access to victims is highly constrained,” said Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, who said she looks forward to exploring opportunities for collaboration. “When human rights investigators and journalists have restricted access, the methods launched by Women Under Siege provide an innovative outlet for allegations of human rights violations to reach the public.”

Through statistics together with individual stories, the goal is to paint a clearer picture of this underreported aspect of the humanitarian crisis and show whether and how women are suffering from rape and its fallout. Women Under Siege has created another means of ensuring that the international community hears the stories of women suffering in war—stories that too often fall silent.

To view the site in Arabic, choose “Arabic (EG)” from the drop-down menu at the top right of the page. (For a crowdmap of human rights violations that fall outside of sexualized violence, visit the nonprofit, volunteer effort SyriaTracker.crowdmap.com.)

Women Under Siege was created by Gloria Steinem, a co-founder of the Women’s Media Center, with the inspiration of the many brave disclosures and prosecutions from Bosnia and Rwanda, as well as such important historical works as Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust by Sonja Hedgepeth and Rochelle Saidel, and At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance—a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle McGuire. The project breaks down how sexualized violence is used as a tool of war, with the belief that understanding what happened from the Holocaust onward might help prevent other mass sexual assaults in conflict.

The Women’s Media Center was founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem to make women and girls visible and powerful in the media. This is accomplished by promoting women as subjects and decision-makers within the media, training women and girls so they are media-ready and media-savvy, monitoring and exposing sexism in the media, and creating innovative new media and original content. The Women’s Media Center is directly engaged with the media at all levels to ensure that a diverse group of women are present in the newsrooms, on air, in print and online, as sources and subjects.

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Media contact:
Lauren Wolfe
Director, Women Under Siege
WomenUnderSiegeProject.org, @WomenUndrSiege
Email: Lauren@womensmediacenter.com