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Islamic State Abuse of Yazidi Girls and Women

Islamic State Abuse of Yazidi Girls and Women

Islamic State Abuse of Yazidi Girls and Women

Systematic rape, physical abuse, sexual slavery, and forced marriage are just a few of the many war crimes carried out by the Islamic State against Yazidi girls and women. As the Humans Right Watch (HRW) explains on April 15th of this year, female members of the religious minority group in northern Iraq have been the victims of horrifying sexual abuse and abduction by members of the Islamic State (IS). After interviewing over 20 female abductees who escaped in the town of Dohuk this January and February, HRW found that IS abducted thousands of Yazidi women in northern Iraq since August 2014, specifically in Nineveh province. After abduction, witnesses say that teenage girls and other women were systematically separated between Iraq and Syria. The HRW especially interviewed 11 women and 9 girls who escaped since September of last year. The interviews showed that half of the women had been raped multiple times by IS fighters, and nearly all have been coerced into marriage or sold into marriage. Besides sexual assault, physical abuse is also common to force the captives into submission. The percentage is so high that after interviewing international and local health services providers, the HRW found that at a local medical center in Dahok, of the 105 women examined by a nurse, 70 seemed to have been victims of ISIS.

One of the victims interviewed was a 12 year-old girl who told HRW that she was examined before selected by one of the IS fighters. She was beaten into submission when she resisted the men’s assault. Hopeless and defenseless, she was considered the property of seven men who consistently raped her.

“I told him to take me to my mother. I was a young girl, and I asked him, ‘What do you want from me?’”, she said.

“He spent three days having sex with me.”

“ISIS forces have committed organized rape, sexual assault, and other horrific crimes against Yezidi women and girls. Those fortunate enough to have escaped need to be treated for the unimaginable trauma they endured,” Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at HRW, explains.  

In fact, the trauma was so severe in the victims, HRW noted, that almost all of the women interviewed showed obvious signs of anxiety and stress. The captives explain that they were all separated from their families who were often killed by ISIS. Many of the girls also confessed that they have tried to commit suicide or have witnessed other victims commit suicide to escape the endless assault.

Seeing the high number of victims ISIS took into captivity as sex slaves, the gruesome treatments of the Yezidi women, and the long-lasting trauma of the victims, the situation now boils down to one question: Why does ISIS target the Yezidi women?

Apparently, according to the Dabiq, an ISIS publication, in October 2014, ISIS confirmed its abuse and abduction of Yezidi women. However, they are justified as the girls are given to the fighters as “spoils of war”. ISIS claims that Islam allows sexual relationships, abuse, and selling of non-Muslim women, therefore all actions that the western world proclaims as crimes against humanity, are naturally justified in Islam. This belief has thus encourage massive systematic abuse and abduction of Yezidi women, who believe in Yezidism, an ancient Mesopotamian religion associated with Zoroastrianism.

Currently, HRW and local governments in northern Iraq are working to provide not only better health care, but more importantly more effective health communications to the victims of ISIS captivity. The Kurdistan Regional Government has already started to absorb more than 637,000 displaced people from just the Nineveh province in 2014. Unfortunately, ineffective communication between health providers and victims as well as the failure to carry out and report medical test results have made the provision of health care in northern Iraq difficult. The Kurdistan Regional Government is thus planning to improve communications as well as develop new plans to help the children born from rape pregnancies. However, more importantly, international organizations such as the HRW and local governments are seeking ways to bridge the psychological gap in the victims and integrate them into the rhythms of daily life again by reminding them that they are human beings rather than commodities sold between men as they were told to believe.


Living in Durham, North Carolina, Cheryl is currently a junior in high school. She is completely in love with free expression through writing and has a wide range of opinions on various issues in popular culture, politics, and social topics.

She is also passionate about women's and children's rights. Besides Her Culture, Cheryl also writes for Miss Heard Magazine, United 4 Social Change, and is a high school ambassador for Her Campus. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, shopping, and 20th century books in particular.


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