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ISIS’s Persisting, and Largely Ignored, Practice of Sexual Slavery


AP Photo/Asaad Mouhsin

John Burger - published on 08/03/15

Christian and Yizidi women continue to be used as carrots for Islamic State militants

“I’ve been raped thirty times and it’s not even lunchtime. I can’t go to the toilet. Please bomb us.”

Those tragic words were uttered by a young Yizidi woman in a cell phone call to activists from Compassion4Kurdistan. 

And, according to an article by Nina Shea atThe American Interest, the woman is far from alone. Girls and young women are being sold in order to both fill ISIS’s coffers and to lure young men to Iraq and Syria to join the jihad. 

Shea, a former commissioner with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, is senior fellow and director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. As the world marks the first anniversary this week of the expulsion of thousands of Christians from northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, she asserts that the sexual slavery of Christian and Yizidi women in the hands of Islamic State militants is still largely overlooked.

After a spate of reporting on the Yizidis last fall, the Islamic State’s slave practice has received scant attention. The Wilson Center’s Middle East director Haleh Esfandiari
observes that “Arab and Muslim governments, though loud in their condemnation of ISIS as a terrorist organization, have been silent on its treatment of women.” The reaction of the White House and Congress has been muted as well. The State Department’s 2015
Sex Trafficking report, released on July 27, devotes barely two paragraphs out of 380 pages to the Islamic State’s institutionalization of sex slavery in the past year.

"Last August, shortly after ISIS established its caliphate, it began something new," Shea writes. "After capturing non-Sunni women and girls, ISIS began awarding and selling them as sex slaves. The vast majority were Yizidis but some, according to UN reports, were Christians."

A Yazidi teenager Du’a told former Congressman Frank Wolf, who interviewed refugees in Kurdistan last January, that she was held in Mosul with 700 other Yizidi girls. She related that the girls were separated by eye color, and members of ISIS were allowed to choose for themselves among the young women.

The rest, she said, were then separated into “pretty” and “ugly” groups, with the most beautiful given away to high ranking ISIS members. …

This month, an ISIS flyer was discovered on Twitter by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremists’ online postings. It announced that girls captured in battle were to be the top three prizes in Quran recitation contests held in two Syrian mosques during the month of Ramadan. Accounts that the flyers said these were Yizidi slaves were erroneous; the girls’ religion was not specified and could have included Christians. Coverage of this was limited to Internet postings.

The harrowing stories she relates include anecdotes of girls as young as nine being raped by the militants who "own" them. 

The phenomenon is so widespred, Shea writes, that Islamic legal scholars have had to make theological pronouncements on it:

The Fatwa Department of the Islamic State made clear that the females of the “People of the Book,” including Christians, can be enslaved for sex as well, though Muslim “apostates” cannot. The number of Christian sex slaves is unknown…. In March, 135 women and children were among those taken captive, from 35 Christian villages along Syria’s Khabour River. Their families, unable to afford the $23 million ransom demand, were told by ISIS, “They belong to us now.” The older women were released; the younger ones may be enslaved, though this has not been confirmed.

But whether Sharia smiles favorably on slavery or not, the practice "needs to be vigorously condemned," Shea concludes, "both as a component of religious genocide every bit as horrifying as beheadings, and in its own right."

Christians in the Middle EastIraqIslamist MilitantsSyria
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