SHUNNED, shamed, threatened with death – research commissioned by a United Nations agency reveals the widespread sexual violence against men and boys affected by the Syria crisis.

Researchers for the UNHCR refugee agency heard accounts of violence against boys as young as ten and men in their 80s.

All parties to the conflict were implicated, with abuses said to have occurred in detention in Syria and in both official and makeshift camps for displaced people.

Gay and bisexual people were found to be particularly vulnerable, along with transgender and intersex individuals.

Interviews revealed how survivors were blackmailed and shamed. Refugee men and boys working informally outside of Syria told how some employers refused to give them their wages unless they performed sex acts.

The findings are based on evidence gathered from Syrians living in Jordan, Lebanon, and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, all of which are home to large populations of refugees.

The UNHCR says the report reveals sexual violence against refugee men and boys “may be far more widespread than previously understood”, despite the documentation of the extent of similar abuses against women and girls.

One focus group of refugee women in Jordan estimated that 30 to 40 per cent of all adult men in their community had experienced sexual violence during detention.

Meanwhile, the agency says little specialise help is available and few victims know it exists.

Volker Turk, assistant high commissioner for protection, said: “These are most disturbing accounts revealing just how grave the risk of sexual violence has become both for women and girls and, as shown by this recent report, also men and boys.

“And it’s clear too that we are faced with a vicious cycle here of little help being available, limited outreach to male survivors, inaccessible services, and a culture of silence – all of which reinforce a myth that this problem is rare.”

One gay man, identified as Tarek, told how he was held in darkness with 80 people for one month, suffering torture and sexual violence. He told researchers: “I thought we would die.”

Another revealed an uncle’s experience, saying that he died from kidney failure after developing eating problems and alcoholism as a result of his time in detention.

Informants, parents and adolescents highlighted harassment and violence in schools, including sexual violence. A legal aid officer in Jordan said: “The mother will come to us and at first she will describe it as ‘bullying’, but later we find out it was a sexual act.”

On the social impact, one official in Iraqi Kurdistan said: “Community stigma is the biggest issue.

“A man must be strong enough not just to defend his family but also himself.

“He will be known as weak, incompetent and inappropriate.”

The report says refugee agencies must create stronger prevention strategies, better confidentiality arrangements, protection against reprisals and improved care for survivors.

It also also calls for further research into the prevention and response to sexual violence against males in conflict and displacement.