A United Nations official has painted a chilling picture of how the Islamic State group oversees a vast network of sexual slavery, including an elaborate pricing system, violent treatment by slave masters and casual branding of female bodies and reselling of "used goods."
ISIS is organized and coordinated and "operates on a widespread and systematic basis to commit a staggering array of atrocities," said Zainab Bangura, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. "They are institutionalizing sexual violence; the brutalization of women and girls is central to their ideology. They use sexual violence as a ‘tactic of terrorism’ to advance key strategic priorities, such as recruitment, fundraising, to enforce discipline and order—through the punishment of dissenters or family members—and to advance their radical ideology."
Bangura, herself a Muslim from Sierra Leone, spoke with Middle East Eye May 7 after a fact-finding trip to Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. She said the focus of the tour was ISIS’ "war on women, including from Yazidi, Christian and Turkmen Shia minorities."
ISIS, which has been fighting to establish an Islamic "caliphate" in the Middle East, wastes no time in finding women for sexual slavery, she said:
After attacking a village, IS splits women from men and executes boys and men aged 14 and over. The women and mothers are separated; girls are stripped naked, tested for virginity and examined for breast size and prettiness. The youngest, and those considered the prettiest virgins fetch higher prices and are sent to Raqqa, the IS stronghold.
Sheikhs get first choice, she said, followed by emirs and fighters.
They often take three or four girls each and keep them for a month or so, until they grow tired of a girl, when she goes back to market. At slave auctions, buyers haggle fiercely, driving down prices by disparaging girls as flat-chested or unattractive.
We heard about one girl who was traded 22 times, and another, who had escaped, told us that the sheikh who had captured her wrote his name on the back of her hand to show that she was his ‘property’.
Bangura said her fact-finding mission heard about a 20-year-old girl who was "burned alive because she refused to perform an extreme sex act," as well as "other sadistic sexual acts."
The appetite for such slaves is, apparently, enormous. Bangura reported that in addition to native soldiers, ISIS has "tens of thousands of fighters from 100 nationalities." Women’s bodies are used as part of supporting the jihad. "There are tens of thousands of men who expect that they will ‘get’ women to ‘marry,’" she said.
Answering interviewer James Reini’s question about fighting ISIS, she said that in addition to the military intervention and sanctions, "we need first to tackle their access to communication means including social media that they use to terrorize communities and the whole world and attract new recruits."