News broke out last week that militants from the so-called Islamic State (IS) group were trying to sell Yazidi women as sex slaves on social media sites such as Facebook. Some of the women under their captivity were advertised to be sold for up to $8,000.
One IS fighter, who calls himself Abu Assad Almani, posted photos on May 20 of two Yazidi sex slaves on his Facebook page that he wanted to sell. The militant posted the first picture of a young girl with a caption: “She is for sale. To all the bros thinking about buying a slave, this one is $8,000”.
A second picture of another girl was posted by the same man a few hours later. “Another sabiyah [slave], also about $8,000,” the posting reads. “Yay, or nay?”
The two photos were taken down by Facebook. Almani is believed to be an ISIS fighter of German origin who lives in the group’s de facto capital of Raqqa, northern Syria. Almani had made earlier postings which suggest that he is well familiar with the IS’ undertakings around Raqqa. He also uses his social media accounts to seek donations for the militant group.
Social-media sites used by IS fighters in recent months have included numerous accounts of the buying and selling of sex slaves especially Yazidi women. The harrowing posting is a horrifying glimpse into the situation of hundreds of Yazidi women who are held captive by IS fighters.
The Yazidis – a Kurdish-speaking ethno-religious minority based primarily in north Iraq – have been labelled “infidels” by ISIS for practicing a syncretic religion.
In August 2014, more than 5,000 Yazidis, mostly women and children were captured and enslaved by IS militants from their hometown in Mount Sinjar in northwestern Iraq.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented the plight of Yazidi women who are raped, forcibly married, bought and sold in “slavery markets” and converted into Islam by cash-strapped fighters. Some girls have been “sold” in exchange for a few packs of cigarettes.
Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a Yazidi survivor, described her ordeal when she was held as a sex slave by ISIS fighters during her speech to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in December 2015:
“We, the women and children were brought by bus to another region," she said. "Along the way they humiliated us. They touched us and violated us. They took us to Mosul with more than 150 other Yazidi families. There were thousands of Yazidi families and children who were exchanged as gifts,” she said.
“One of these people came up to me, he wanted to take me, I was absolutely petrified. He forced me to serve as part of his military faction. He humiliated me every day. He forced me to wear clothes that didn’t cover my body. I was tortured.”
“I tried to flee but one of the guards stopped me. That night he beat me. He asked me to take my clothes off. He put me in a room with the guards. Then they proceeded to commit their crime until I feinted.”
She managed to escape three months after her abduction.
IS militants have justified their brutality and violence against Yazidis and other minority groups for being “infidels” of Islam.
Rothna Begum, women’s rights researcher from Human Rights Watch has commented about the plight of the Yazidi women and girls. Quoted in The Independent: “ISIS forces have abducted thousands of Yezidis since August 2014 and committed organized rape, sexual assault, and other horrific crimes against many Yezidi women and girls.”
“These are war crimes and may be crimes against humanity.”
“ISIS acknowledges such crimes and attempts to justify them by categorizing captured Yezidi women and girls as “spoils of war” for its fighters, and claims that Islam permits sex with non-Muslim “slaves”.”
Although around 1,500 Yazidi women and girls have either managed to flee or been rescued with the help of Kurdish forces, many are still held under captivity in IS-dominated areas. Vian Dakhil, the only female Yazidi member of parliament in Iraq is beating the odds to rescue Yazidi women from ISIS houses.
On a grassroots level, Dakhil works closely with an underground network of activists and volunteers to try and rescue Yazidi survivors of the ISIS carnage. The loosely formed group has gone to great lengths by risking their lives by entering the ISIS-controlled areas to bring Yazidi survivors to Iraqi Kurdistan.
“With no help from any government, we’ve been able to rescue 2,150 of the 5,840 Yazidi men, women and children who were taken prisoner—800 of them young girls,” Dakhil was quoted in NonProfit Quarterly.
The plight of Yazidis has also forced them to seek asylum in refugee camps in Dohuk, Kurdish controlled northern Iraq. There are as many as fifteen camps scattered in Dohuk housing tens of thousands of Yazidis. One of the bigger camps, Sharia camp, which opened in 2014, now has two Arabic and two Kurdish schools for the children of refugees. Dakhil, along with other activists, regularly visits Yazidi refugees living in the camps and assists with the running of the schools.
Her efforts to help fellow Yazidis have made her an assassination target where she is at the top of their hit list. Dakhil has also lobbied both in Iraq and abroad for more action and resources to free them.
As the armed forces are closing in on ISIS strongholds in Iraq, more Yazidi women are being rescued. Two Yazidi women were salvaged from ISIS captivity in Fallujah by Iraqi forces during an ongoing offensive to recapture towns from ISIS.
But Dakhil insists more needs to be done to rescue Yazidi women and girls held by IS fighters.
The instance of the IS fighter, Almani, who wanted to sell female sex slaves through his Facebook page on May 20 shows the desperate plight of the remaining Yazidi women and girls still in captivity.
The photos of the two women were captured by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington nonprofit organisation that oversees jihadists’ social-media accounts.
“We have seen a great deal of brutality, but the content that ISIS has been disseminating over the past two years has surpassed it all for sheer evil,” Steven Stalinsky, the institute’s executive director said quoted in The Independent. “Sales of slave girls on social media is just one more example of this.”