Women in Syria and Iraq are at high risk for sexual enslavement by ISIS. ISIS is capturing, abusing, raping, trading, and selling women in areas it controls. America is politically polarized and citizens are divided on the U.S. policy on ISIS. Some think the U.S. should be doing more to combat the organization. They think America should use its full strength to ward off possible terrorist attacks on home soil. Others worry that air strikes will incur too many civilian deaths and collateral damage. They believe America should be more cautious about declaring war on another country in the Middle East.
President Obama decided there was not time for extended debate and ordered air strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq and then Syria to support local troops on the ground. A coalition of world nations including five from the Middle East are fighting against ISIS hoping to stop its spread. Key nations have refused support saying that violence met with violence just breeds more terrorism. By getting involved the West may further incite and unite radical would-be terrorists.
Most experts agree that the situation in the Middle East is complicated. Religious, political, ethnic and tribal tensions have been brewing for centuries. It is hard for Americans to understand the nuances of the conflicts; which groups side with each other and which are enemies. It is hard for American citizens to sort through the rhetoric of Middle East leaders to understand the real truths, but one thing has become glaringly clear – the women of Syria and Iraq – and other nations with a terrorist presence – are facing immediate peril. They cannot wait until the situation can be worked out through diplomatic means. They cannot wait while the underlying ideology is addressed.
Testimony coming out of Syria and Iraq from the few women who have escaped from ISIS are chilling. Most stories follow a similar pattern and are from Yazidi women who have made it to refugee camps. The Sunni ISIS forces are mostly targeting minorities including Yazidis, Christians and Turkmen, but also are making life a living hell for Shia Muslims, repressing Sunni women, and executing professional and political women in the region.
The most horrific stories have been reported by the Yazidi. Heavily armed ISIS groups quickly attack and take over a village or town. First, the men and boys are separated from the women and massacred. Women lose their sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins and other loved ones. As horrific as the mass murder is, for the women, the ordeal is just beginning. They are transported to a more permanent location and many end up in Mosul’s Badush prison. The rape and sexual abuse begin immediately. One woman reported that as they entered the camp they were led to a building where a man met them at the door, tore off their head scarfs, ripped open their dresses, and sexually fondled them before sorting them into groups. The women are kept as sexual slaves for the soldiers or are given as wives. An obscure tradition of Islam allows for temporary marriage which means women can be traded in marriage from man to man by those who use Islam to justify their abuse.
Another woman who eventually made it to safety described the conditions under which she and others were held, “Every day or two men would come in and make us take off our head scarfs so they could choose which ones of us they wanted. Many were raped. They were dragged out of the house by their hair. We don’t know what became of them.”
Another young woman was tortured and starved before her escape. She reported that ISIS sold girls as young as nine. She said some girls find their escape in death. While she was being held two girls hung themselves and another cut her wrists. This news caused one woman in the crowd to completely break down. In a haunting cry for help she declared she just wanted her daughters back. “They took all our girls. It is all we care about. The world must help us.”
Yet another girl describes her ordeal. Only 15 years old, she reports that many of the girls raped were just teenagers. She and her friend were given in marriage to ISIS soldiers “They were really filthy. They had long beards; they were really tall and big. Even men would be scared of them. They forced us to marry them, threatening to hurt us if we didn’t. They gave us a phone to call our families to tell them we’d converted.” The girls were able to use the phone to contact help.
In addition to minority women being held as sexual spoils of war, Sunni women in towns under ISIS control live in a state of repression and fear of punishment for transgressions against the ISIS interpretation of Sharia Law. In areas not under direct control, ISIS targets female activists, professionals and politicians. Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy, a lawyer and advocate for women’s rights, was seized from her home, tortured for several days and publicly executed on Sept. 22. The UN says, “educated, professional women seem to be particularly at risk.”
Tens of thousands have been killed or captured by ISIS. An estimated 5,000 Yazidi men, women and children have disappeared. The men are presumed dead. The women are likely being held within ISIS strongholds and undergoing continuous sexual abuse. Many of those arriving at the refugee camps say they were able to escape during confusion caused by air strikes on the ISIS locations. Already, initial military moves have had an impact. For the women and men caught by the advance of the Islamic State there is no time to waste. They need immediate rescue and a return to safety. Women in Syria and Iraq are at risk for sexual enslavement by ISIS and need international help now.
By: Rebecca Savastio