Zainab Bangura, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, recently interviewed numerous women whom Islamic State (IS) militants had kidnapped and forced into sex slavery.
She found what others have previously discovered: rape, slavery, slave markets, and women undergoing surgery to ‘restore’ their virginity.
“Women and girls are at risk and under assault at every point of their lives,” she explained, adding that the threats lurk behind them “every step of the way… in the midst of active conflict, in areas under control of armed actors, at check-points and border crossings, and in detention facilities.”
She also told journalists about the sex markets the militants hold to sell women.
“Girls are literally being stripped naked and examined in slave bazaars,” she claimed, and said they were “categorised and shipped naked to Dohuk, Mosul or other locations to be distributed among IS leadership and fighters.”
In November, a video posted on YouTube showed IS militants laughing and joking while purchasing Yazidi slaves. The men acted as if bidding on objects rather than human beings. One man explained to the camera that eye color makes a difference to the price and the women must have all their teeth.
One enslaved woman phoned a Kurdish Peshmerga fighter to beg them and the West to designate as their next target the brothel where she being held. She said the terrorists “raped her 30 times in just a few hours.” She wanted the brothel bombed to kill the jihadists and end the women’s misery as sex slaves.
Bangura said the militants promised young girls to IS leaders. They also force the girls into prostitution, a way for the group to raise funds. She claims one woman was married off 20 times, and each time the militants forced her to undergo surgery to ‘repair’ her virginity.
Turkish news outlet Hurriyet Daily News interviewed Yazidi women and girls in Iraq about the horrific treatment they received at the hands of IS. Many are “ashamed and afraid” since they come from “a deeply traditional culture.” From The Sunday Times:
The magnitude of the crisis is such that Baba Sheikh, a prominent Yazidi religious leader, issued an unprecedented statement to the community. It declared the women were victims who had suffered through no fault of their own and should be supported, not ostracised.
Young women worry they will be stigmatised and become “unmarriageable” in a culture in which sexual intercourse before marriage is frowned upon.
Although abortion is illegal in Kurdistan, even for cases of rape, some doctors have secretly been performing terminations for those who have come back pregnant. Some returning Yazidi girls are also secretly seeking surgery to reverse the loss of virginity.
“IS have institutionalised sexual violence and the brutalization of women as a central aspect of their ideology and operations, using it as a tactic of terrorism to advance their key strategic objectives,” said Bangura.
Sarah, a 14-year-old girl The Sunday Times interviewed, is still traumatized. Two men offered their hands in marriage, but she refused.
“I refused both of them; I don’t want to fall in love,” she cried. “I don’t think I can. I don’t want to be married or have children — I am damaged goods.”