Syrian women have been sexually exploited by men delivering aid from the United Nations and international charities, according to a disturbing new report.
Aid workers told the BBC the problem is so rampant that some women refuse to venture into distribution centers amid fears people would assume they had offered their bodies in return for supplies.
Despite warnings about the abuse in 2015, a new report shows it is continuing in the south of the country.
One worker claimed that some charities were ignoring the exploitation because using third parties and local officials was the only means of sending aid into dangerous parts of Syria, the BBC reported.
The UN Population Fund studied gender-based violence in the region last year and found that humanitarian assistance was being exchanged for sex in various parts of the country.
“Examples were given of women or girls marrying officials for a short period of time for ‘sexual services’ in order to receive meals,” according to the report, titled “Voices from Syria 2018.”
The report also cited “distributors asking for telephone numbers of women and girls; giving them lifts to their houses ‘to take something in return’ or obtaining distributions ‘in exchange for a visit to her home’ or ‘in exchange for services, such as spending a night with them.’”
The exploitation was first reported when Danielle Spencer, a humanitarian adviser working for a charity, heard about the allegations from a group of Syrian women in a refugee camp in Jordan three years ago.
Some of the women told Spencer about how men from local councils in areas such as Dara’a and Quneitra had offered them aid for sex.
“They were withholding aid that had been delivered and then using these women for sex,” Spencer said.
“I remember one woman crying in the room and she was very upset about what she had experienced. Women and girls need to be protected when they are trying to receive food and soap and basic items to live,” she said.
“The last thing you need is a man who you’re supposed to trust and supposed to be receiving aid from, then asking you to have sex with him and withholding aid from you,” she continued.
“It was so endemic that they couldn’t actually go without being stigmatized. It was assumed that if you go to these distributions, that you will have performed some kind of sexual act in return for aid.”
In June 2015, the International Rescue Committee surveyed 190 women and girls in Dara’a and Quneitra. The IRC said about 40 percent reported that sexual violence took place when they were accessing services, including humanitarian assistance.
As a result of the meeting, some aid agencies tightened up their procedures.