Islamic State practice of abducting girls and forcing them into sexual slavery has driven some to suicide.
Reports of IS abuses have been pouring into Western media for months now, each a fresh horror. IS has seized control over wide swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, capturing those it considers non-believers and killing or enslaving them.
One group that has been particularly targeted are Yazidis, a religious minority from Iraq. On Tuesday, Amnesty International called the IS actions ethnic cleansing.
“The physical and psychological toll of the horrifying sexual violence these women have endured is catastrophic,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser, in a statement. “Many of them have been tortured and treated as chattel. Even those who have managed to escape remain deeply traumatized.”
The women and girls who are captured are divided among the IS fighters, and sometimes their supporters, in accordance with the terror group’s interpretation of sharia law. The group boasted in an article in its propaganda publication Dabiq, “This large-scale enslavement of mushrik [polytheist] families is probably the first since the abandonment of this sharia law.”
For some, the suffering is too great. According to Amnesty International’s report, a 19-year-old girl named Jilan took her own life out of fear she would be raped, her brother said. Another girl held with her corroborated the account.
“One day we were given clothes that looked like dance costumes and were told to bathe and wear those clothes. Jilan killed herself in the bathroom.”
“She cut her wrists and hanged herself. She was very beautiful; I think she knew she was going to be taken away by a man and that is why she killed herself.” Jilan’s companion ultimately escaped.
Another former captive, Wafa, aged 27, told Amnesty she and her sister tried to strangle themselves rather than be taken into a forced marriage, but they were stopped by fellow captives.
“We tied…scarves around our necks and pulled away from each other as hard as we could, until I fainted…I could not speak for several days after that.”
Another young woman, 16-year-old Randa, was captured with her family and raped by a man twice her age to whom she had been given.
“It is so painful what they did to me and to my family,” she told Amnesty. “What will happen to my family? I don’t know if I will ever see them again.”
Even after the fact, the trauma, along with the stigma of lost ‘honor’ from being raped, have a lasting and life-threatening impact on victims. One grandfather spoke to the human rights group about his 16-year-old granddaughter who escaped IS captivity after being raped. “She is very sad and quiet all the time. She does not smile any more and seems not to care about anything. I worry that she may try to kill herself, I don’t let her out of my sight.”
Rovera called on the world to take action. “The Kurdistan Regional Government, UN and other humanitarian organizations who are providing medical and other support services to survivors of sexual violence must step up their efforts. They must ensure they are swiftly and proactively reaching out to all those who may need them, and that women and girls are made aware of the support available to them.”