To dissociate from trauma, victims of terrorism depict themselves as a faceless body – a new UNODC project helps in their recovery

© Odette Helou/AVT-L

At a workshop providing psychological support to victims of terrorism, Narin (not her real name) pictured herself as a body without a face. “I was abducted by ISIL at the age of 17 and was sold and raped by a dozen men”, she says. “To this day, I still do not know what the fate of my abducted mother is, I still don’t know if she is dead or alive”, she adds. To help victims like Narin through legal and psychological support, UNODC, together with the Lebanese Association for Victims of Terrorism (AVT-L) is implementing a new project funded by the Dutch government.

At the launch event of the initiative, which brought together 21 Iraqi policy makers and senior criminal justice officials, Masood Karimipour, Chief of UNODC’s Terrorism Prevention Branch emphasized “That reconciliation and healing must start with mending the wounds of violence and cruelty.” We can do that, he said, “By supporting those affected in their recovery process and in safeguarding their rights in criminal proceedings.”

This view was echoed by Iraqi law enforcement authorities, on behalf of whom an officer said, “Iraq is home to more than 70,000 victims [of terrorism]. If we want to help communities affected by ISIL, law enforcement and criminal justice need to join forces to support displaced individuals and families who lost everything.”


Narin’s depiction of herself is typical for many female victims. This way they can dissociate themselves from their bodies to survive sexual assault. Following psychological counselling, Narin managed to reconnect with her feelings and emotions from before the abduction, an important first step towards her psychological recovery. “I was able to picture my mother sitting down next to me and stroking my hair so gently,” she said.

Terrorism continues to harm, injure, kill and change the lives of innocent victims every year. Victims have too often been forgotten by society and the criminal justice systems. In recent years, however, there has been greater recognition of their rights, and the roles that victims can play in criminal proceedings.

Through this new project, UNODC, together with the Lebanese Association for Victims of Terrorism (AVT-L), are working on enhancing national capacity to guarantee victim’s rights during criminal proceedings, and to promote the rehabilitation process and empowerment of victims of terrorism within their communities through psychological support. AVT-L has more than 10 years of experience in providing support to victims of terrorism in the Middle East, especially in remote locations of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Victims of terrorism have the potential to become messengers for peace, if provided with the necessary protection, assistance and tools, to support countering terrorist narratives and the justifications used to incite violence. This project is honouring the strength and resilience of these victims and their families and supporting them to recollect the pieces of a life that got shattered, while ensuring their needs and rights are safeguarded in the judicial system.