According to a terrifying new report by award-winning journalist Rukmini Callimachi, over the course of the past year, ISIS militants have created a highly organized market for sexual slavery and systematic rape targeting women and children of the Yazidi religious minority group. Callimachi detailed the horrors of the group's sex trade in Iraq and Syria in an in-depth article for the New York Times, for which she interviewed 21 women and girls who've fled ISIS and examined official ISIS pamphlets and communications. The piece examines how the militant group is turning rape into an economy.
In accounts given to Callimachi, captured Yazidi men and boys mature enough to have armpit hair were shot dead, while the women and girls were rounded up to be sold as sex slaves. The practice has become part of a "detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery":
A total of 5,270 Yazidis were abducted last year, and at least 3,144 are still being held, according to community leaders. To handle them, the Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales contracts notarized by the ISIS-run Islamic courts. And the practice has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden.A growing body of internal policy memos and theological discussions has established guidelines for slavery, including a lengthy how-to manual issued by the Islamic State Research and Fatwa Department just last month. Repeatedly, the ISIS leadership has emphasized a narrow and selective reading of the Quran and other religious rulings to not only justify violence, but also to elevate and celebrate each sexual assault as spiritually beneficial, even virtuous.
The prisoners are then taken to warehouses, Callimachi reports, where they are "inspected and marketed" like equipment, before being sent off to a slave market by bus.
Once sold, the girls and women are raped, an act that is seen by ISIS men as blessed, as in the case of this 12-year-old girl:
"'I kept telling him it hurts—please stop,' said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. 'He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,' she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after 11 months of captivity."
Many of the men reportedly prayed before and after raping the girls. They justify these rapes by radical and loose interpretations of the Quran, which they claim supports slavery. The only time men are not permitted to have sex with a woman is if she is pregnant.
The report is a deeply shocking but essential look at the inhumane strategies ISIS is developing in the areas it controls. To read the full report, visit the Times here and listen to Callimachi talk about the story on the Longform podcast here.