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Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Human Element: Stand Against Rape


By Heeba Dlewati and Times Staff Wrtier

It’s something no one wants to talk about. Until news headlines erupted with the anger of people from New Delhi, India to Steubenville, Ohio protesting: rape. Nonetheless, rape victims in some parts of the world are still disregarded. Last week on campus we tried to change that a little.

Last December demonstrators took to the streets around the world when a young medical student in New Delhi, India was raped by six men on her bus ride home, dying less than two weeks later due to her injuries.

Closer to home, demonstrators protested in Steubenville, Ohio last month to display their dissatisfaction with how the police managed a high school rape investigation. The 16-year-old high school girl was allegedly raped by two of her classmates at a party last August.
Syria is in the news almost every day. Yet despite all the media headlines of war, the voice of Syrian women has been marginalized and no one speaks of the horrors of rape. Rape in Syria is not an isolated occurrence. It is being used by the regime as a systematic weapon of fear, punishment and war against its own people.

I was detained in Damascus for the second time last May following a peaceful sit-in. During one of my sessions with the investigator, he threatened me with gang-rape if I didn’t confess to being part of an anti-regime organization. I was luckily released from the political prison via family connections after three days and didn’t have to put his threat to test.

Other girls in Syria have not been so lucky. Syrian refugees surveyed by the International Rescue Committee listed rape as their chief reason for fleeing the country. With more than 800,000 Syrian refugees since March 2011, it’s easy to see that rape in Syria is a grim reality getting worse every day.

The stories from Syria are beyond horrific. I think the one that haunted me the most was of a girl who was gang-raped in a town square right after her family was killed. The regime thugs left her for dead as well, dumping her body in a garbage container. She somehow survived and is currently in a hostel for battered women outside of Syria and is able to tell her story

Unfortunately her story is one of many, most of which are never told. A few weeks ago some friends at the Syrian American Council suggested starting a campaign against rape in Syria. The goals of the campaign were raising awareness and trying to get people to sign a petition asking first lady Michelle Obama to call attention to and condemn these atrocious crimes.

Students from the Anthropology Club, Feminists for Global Equality, International Students’ Organization and Muslim Students’ Association collaborated for a silent flash-mob here on campus on February 11. We put red tape on our mouths and marched up the steps of the UCEN, posters and flyers in hand. Some people joined us while others looked on, but ultimately we did end up getting more than 75 signatures for the petition.

It was great to see so many different people working together, and I’d really like to thank everyone who came and helped out. Other campuses across the U.S and Canada have held similar flash-mobs protesting rape in Syria. Whether or not we made a difference, no one really knows. What I do know is that I can’t stand doing nothing.

Social media brought attention to the injustice in Ohio and protests brought attention to the injustice in India. You never know what small action might be the key to change. We have a voice here in America and I plan on using it. As Elie Wiesel said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Heeba can be reached at

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