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Syrian forces have used sexual violence to torture men, women and children, Human Right Watch said

Syrian forces have used sexual violence to torture men, women and children, Human Right Watch has said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said witnesses and victims have informed its team that pro-regime militiamen and Syrian troops have sexually abused women, girls as young as 12 and men as part of their terror tactics against the population.

Sexual violence and assaults have been reported in detention centres and homes that have been raided by troops.

The rights watchdog interviewed 10 former detainees, including two women who said they had been victim of or witnessed sexual abuse while in custody.

Women in detention catalogued a grisly list of rape, sexual abuse and humiliation, electroshock torture and beatings of genitalia.

Most detainees said they were arrested because of their activism. Even those not sure why they had been arrested said they suffered abuse.

"Sexual violence in detention is one of many horrific weapons in the Syrian government's torture arsenal and Syrian security forces regularly use it to humiliate and degrade detainees with impunity," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch.

"The assaults are not limited to detention facilities - government forces and pro-government shabiha militia members have also sexually assaulted women and girls during home raids and residential sweeps."

Human Rights Watch documented more than 20 specific incidents of sexual assault, five of which involved more than one victim.

The assaults took place between March 2011 and March 2012 in Daraa, Idlib, Damascus, and Latakia governorates. The bulk were in Homs governorate.

The full extent of abuse was unknown said Human Rights Watch. Victims fear reprisals if they speak out - from the authorities or ashamed relatives - and researchers have very limited access.

The organisation reported one case where a woman who had been raped and wanted to be interviewed was prevented from doing so by her husband.

Victims have restricted access to medical care and counselling in Syria. Refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries are in the same predicament as the range of services available to them remains very limited.

Victims of sexual assault need access to emergency medical services, legal assistance, and social support to address injuries caused by the assault, the group said.

In addition victims also need to be monitored to prevent pregnancy or transmission of sexually transmitted infections including HIV and to collect evidence.

HRW called on the Syrian government, host countries and aid donors to ensure victims have access to medical and psychological assistance and to protect the victims.

In December Hivin Kako, a spokesperson for the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, spoke out about sexual abuse in IBTimes UK: ""There were cases of women being raped by the regime's troops being reported at the beginning of the revolution.

"Some of them ended up pregnant. It remains taboo for people to talk openly about sexual abuse in Syria. Many are too ashamed and scared of being stigmatised to speak about it."

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