Young girls kidnapped from their beds. Yazidi women and girls sold into sex trafficking. Rumors of female Muslim teens being used as suicide bombers. It is hard to imagine that Islamic extremists could make things more difficult for women and girls in war-stricken areas, but they are.
A United Nations team of sex crime investigators has been working in and around Islamic State war zones since 2009. Middle East Eye reports:
According to its head, Zainab Bangura, the Islamic State (IS) group has taken atrocities to a whole new level.
Bangura has just returned from Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, where she gathered data on IS sex crimes, including those against captured Yazidi women.
Bangura describes what happens when Islamic extremists take over a region or village:
IS splits women from men and executes boys and men aged 14 and over. The women and mothers are separated; girls are stripped naked, tested for virginity and examined for breast size and prettiness. The youngest, and those considered the prettiest virgins fetch higher prices and are sent to Raqqa, the IS stronghold.
There is a hierarchy: sheikhs get first choice, then emirs, then fighters. They often take three or four girls each and keep them for a month or so, until they grow tired of a girl, when she goes back to market. At slave auctions, buyers haggle fiercely, driving down prices by disparaging girls as flat-chested or unattractive.
We heard about one girl who was traded 22 times, and another, who had escaped, told us that the sheikh who had captured her wrote his name on the back of her hand to show that she was his ‘property’.
She also had this very disheartening bit to say about IS:
[They are ] organised, coordinated and operates on a widespread and systematic basis to commit a staggering array of atrocities. They are institutionalising sexual violence; the brutalisation of women and girls is central to their ideology.
Bangura said some women escape or are sold back to their families, but many of these women have been so brutalized that they live in a state of shock. Beyond that, these families are often refugees and are trying to simply find basic necessities like food and shelter. Bangura added this personal note about her work:
It was painful for me. The countries I have worked on include Bosnia, Congo, South Sudan, Somalia and Central African Republic; I never saw anything like this. I cannot understand such inhumanity. I was sick, I couldn’t understand.
Read “Q&A: Probing Islamic State’s sex atrocities with the United Nations” at Middle East Eye.