The Yazidi girl – who wished to remain unnamed – became pregnant after being brutally raped by an ISIS fighter. Desperate, she tried to force a miscarriage by throwing herself down a flight of stairs. When she attempted to escape from her abductors, she was re-captured and raped by six men. Kept naked in a room, she was repeatedly sold and raped to groups of men. The more times she was sold, the more her monetary value declined. She was told that she had to be raped to become a Muslim and that it ISIS fighters were simply implementing the Prophet Muhammad’s law.
In the Trafficking Terror report, she revealed how girls were raped together in the same room. Islamic State members would touch the chests of captured girls to see whether they had grown breasts. If they had breasts, they could be raped; if not, they would wait three months to check again.
August marked the five-year anniversary of this reign of terror that would forever change the lives of the Yazidi clan from the Sinjar region in the far northwest of Iraq. A minority group whose gnostic religion stemmed from Zoroastrianism, ISIS theologians labelled them as infidels to justify their tyranny.
When ISIS invaded Sinjar in 2014, most of the men were executed and thousands of women and children were transported to ISIS slave markets. The women and girls were doomed to enter into several yearlong odysseys of violence, slavery, and sexual abuse – being sold again and again to different ISIS fighters – often to as many as ten different men. A report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that some 5,000 Yazidi women have been sold into slavery. To date, almost 3,000 of them still remain missing.
The case management team at YAZDA, a Yazidi global organization established in the aftermath of the Yazidi Genocide in 2014, explained, “The campaign of genocide ISIS began carrying out in 2014 pivots on several major atrocities. One of them was mass executions, which included many men and elderly women who were unable to escape the Sinjar region as ISIS swept through.
“The second is the indoctrination of boys and their training as child soldiers. They were stripped from their families, their traditions and forcibly indoctrinated with extremist ideology before being on the battlefields and elsewhere.
“The third is the sexual slavery of Yazidi women. Thousands of children, teenage girls, and young women were forced into sexual slavery under ISIS.”
In cities such as Mosul and Raqqa – the strongholds of ISIS – there were systemised slave markets where women would be sold off based on their age, virginity, and looks. They were also traded, sold, and rented amongst ISIS members, and sometimes given as gifts from one member to another. The stories of cruelty are unfathomable: stories of women who tried to fight the rape of their young daughters and were then raped themselves in front of their daughters as punishment; stories of forced abortions right after capture so they could be sold off easier; and stories of unyielding circles of violence, exploitation and abuse that left many who survived with severe trauma and high risks of suicide.
“Some girls are believed to have been smuggled out into neighboring countries for human trafficking purposes,” YAZDA added.
“There is also the issue of the al Hol camp in Syria, which houses a significant number of ISIS members. Girls are still there – either brainwashed into staying with ISIS families or potentially held against their will. Given the extremely difficult security situation of the camp, there is not at this stage a pragmatic way to go in and find Yazidi girls until there is some effort to clear out the camps – or the ISIS sections anyway.”
Sexual slavery was frequently used as an incentive for ISIS recruits, with the promise of a conveyor belt of women. In a deeply conformist Muslim culture where casual sex is a taboo, the reward of sex-on-demand became part of ISIS propaganda to entice would-be fighters. Any children born out of the “caliphate” had not only financial merits but were also seen as future ISIS conscripts. Moreover, it has been reported that the ISIS recruitment process became a playing field for rapists, paedophiles, and men with a history of sexual and domestic violence.
Lavan Jalal, a psychotherapist at Jiyan Foundation of Human Rights, has worked since 2015 in Jiyan’s Trauma Clinic – Iraq’s only inpatient psychological clinic. She has treated a large majority of Yazidi women and children who escaped ISIS captivity and remain deeply traumatised. Even more worrisome, are the ones who have not yet been rescued.
“Some girls were killed by ISIS because they tried to escape but no one has reported this,” Jalal said.
“Other women committed suicide. Many still reside in refugee camps in Syria and don’t know if or how they can return to Sinjar. Also, many women had children from their captors as a result of the constant sexual abuse. These children are considered Muslim by Yazidi culture and thus would not be accepted into the Yazidi community. Many women thus face the harrowing choice between returning to their families and leaving their children behind, or staying with their children without returning to their families. In this regard, any attempts to negotiate with the Yazidi community to make exceptions and allow these children into the communities have failed so far.”
The depraved story of the methodical sexual violence towards the Yazidi by ISIS has left a putrid stain. It is one that cannot be washed away until better justice is served for the thousands who are still missing.
“Investigation is needed into unreported deaths and suicides to achieve peace for the families who, until today, remain in the unknown about their relatives,” Jalal insisted.
“Outreach work is needed in the camps in Syria with the women who still live there to try and understand what keeps them from returning. There should be a creation of links between families who are still looking for a relative and women in those camps. And, of course, continue the negotiations with the leaders of the Yazidi community about accepting Yazidi women’s children born in captivity.”