5 Things To Know About The 7,000 Yazidi Women Being Held As Sex Slaves By ISIS
Militants from ISIS, a.k.a. the Islamic State/ISIL (or whatever else you’d like to name the terrorist group that’s been wreaking havoc on Middle Eastern society and by proxy, much of the rest of the world), has kidnapped close to 7,000 Yazidi women and children within the past two months to be kept as slaves and forced into marriages with strangers. Many of those who were kidnapped saw their husbands, fathers and other male relatives murdered before their eyes. The victims, members of the Kurdish Yazidi religious group (which ISIS has heavily targeted), are from the Sinjar region of northern Iraq, an area that’s now been overtaken by the terrorist group. Here are five things to know about the nightmarish kidnappings.
1. The Yazidi religion is a minority in Iraq. Sinjar was a predominantly Yazidi region, and when ISIS took over the area on August 3, most of those who were spared from kidnapping were forced to leave their homes. Roughly 50,000 Yazidis became refugees that day and were left stranded in the nearby mountains. The Yazidis’ leader plead for help from the international community, but many of them have starved to death or been massacred by ISIS militants.
2. The captured women face brutal sexual violence and are forced to convert to a new religion. Women and girls over age 12 are sold off to men as “brides” — essentially, sex slaves. The women are sometimes sold to more than one man. Those who have yet to be sold are still at risk of being raped by their ISIS captors as punishment if they anger them. They are assaulted, beaten and ultimately murdered if they refuse to convert to Islam (it’s important to note that the ISIS interpretation of Islam is different from that of most everyday Muslims — slavery is forbidden in the modern practice of the religion). Victims who give birth while being held captive often have their babies taken from them and never see them again.
3. Some of them have been able to communicate with their families. Many of the prisoners have managed to keep cell phones that they hide from the militants. They’ve used them to talk speak to reporters to give the rest of the world a clearer picture of what their suffering is like. They’ve also used them to call their families in the world outside captivity. Because they fear being punished, the women often have to keep the secret calls short and very vague. Relatives who have been able to talk to their kidnapped loved ones have reported hearing them crying in desperation before having to hang up. Most have no idea where their daughters, sisters or mothers are being held or whether they’re still alive from one day to the next. Journalist Nareen Shammo told NPR that many kidnapped women she spoke to are begging for the Western military to target airstrikes at them because they’d rather die than stay in their current situation. The ISIS militants won’t allow the women to commit suicide, though Shammo knows of 41 women in captivity who have managed to.
4. Other Iraqis have risked their lives in efforts to rescue them. Some Muslim men living in ISIS-ruled regions have purchased women at “bride” sales in order to help them escape to freedom. Anyone discovered rescuing the women, however, faces murder. According to NPR, one man bravely managed to rescue almost 40 women before he was forced to go into hiding to avoid getting caught. Others have been caught in the midst of trying to smuggle the women out and been brutally killed.
5. Iraqis, relatives of the victims, and activist groups are rallying to seek help for the prisoners. Protests have erupted at the US consulate in Iraq as well as United Nations establishments. News outlets are covering the situation more and more each day. As awareness spreads, more pressure is placed on the United Nations, Iraqi officials, and international military groups to try to rescue the women.
This isn’t the first time in recent history that a large group of women have been kidnapped by terrorists — hundreds of young Nigerian girls are still missing at the hands of another extremist group, though the Nigerian government has claimed today that the girls will be released soon. Let’s hope that this latest crisis can end in freedom for the Yazidi women as well. It’s easy to feel powerless against so much suffering, especially with how little information we have about the situation, but one thing we can do to be of support is to help raise awareness. It’s not much, but it’s a small start. Tell everyone you know, and if you’d like, make a donation to support Yazidi refugees and other displaced Iraqis.
[Image via RT]