ISIS, Yazidis and Crimes of Sex Trafficking in Iraq

August 25, 2014 Brooke Hathaway Opinion 
Sex Trafficking

You’ve certainly heard about the terror in Iraq during the last month with reports of 200,000 Iraqis fleeing for their lives as a radical Islamic terrorists attack, kill and rape tens of thousands. In addition to the obvious human rights abuses, we’re learning that these men, women and children are experiencing severe cases of human trafficking – especially young women and girls. 

The latest reports estimate up to 3,000 women and children fleeing the violence in northwest Iraq have been captured and are at risk to be trafficked into modern-day forms of enslavement. 

If you believe this issue needs to be raised at the highest levels of government, please sign this petition by our friends at Walk Free, urging the President of the United Nations Security Council to refer the alleged enslavement to the International Criminal Court for immediate investigation. 

Let me give you a short briefing on the crisis at hand. 

The Players: 

ISIS (or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) – this is not the formal government of Iraq or Syria, but a religious minority group. The Islamic State, in shorthand, is the successor Sunni militant group that emanated from Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Chicago Tribune offers this excellent background piece on ISIS.

Yazidis – the persecuted, religious and ethnic minority group in northwest Iraq that fled from ISIS in early to mid-August. Reports claim up to 40,000 ended up atop Mount Sinjar with hundreds, possibly thousands, killed in what may end up being considered genocide. This article by the Guardian offers additional background material on their religious beliefs, homeland and earlier cases of genocide.

Modern-Day Slavery & ISIS 

ISIS terrorists specifically targeted women and girls fleeing the violence and making their way to Mount Sinjar, with reports coming in from journalists and the United Nations claiming these radicals beat, raped and sold them into forced marriages and sexual enslavement. 

Tabatha Kinder of the International Business Times described the heart-wrenching situation in an August 13th article.

“Witnesses have described seeing terrified women from the Yazidi sect throw themselves "to their deaths" from the Sinjar mountains to avoid being raped and sold into sex slavery by Islamic State militants.”

Several days later, Kinder reported that some of these women and girls, particularly those from communities that resisted ISIS advancements, had been sold into slavery for $5-$10. 

The Iraqi government has confirmed that hundreds of Yazidi women were taken captive by ISIS. As reported by the AP’s Sameer Yacoub, Kamil Amin, the spokesman for Iraq's Human Rights Ministry, said hundreds of Yazidi women below the age of 35 are being held in schools in Iraq's second largest city, Mosul. He said the ministry learned of the captives from their families. 

"We think that the terrorists by now consider them slaves and they have vicious plans for them… We think that these women are going to be used in demeaning ways by those terrorists to satisfy their animalistic urges in a way that contradicts all the human and Islamic values."  

Yacoub reported that the U.S. has confirmed that the Islamic State group has kidnapped and imprisoned Yazidi women so that they can be sold or married off to extremist fighters.

A Father’s Plea & A Modern Day Slave Narrative 

Martin Chulov of the Guardian, reporting from Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan, published a piece on August 11th detailing the harrowing account by one Yazidi father whose daughter was reportedly trafficked. 

Khandhar Kaliph spoke to his daughter by phone via the terrorists and told Chuloy with tears “dropping into the brown dust.” 

“She said she is going to be sold as a slave this afternoon, for $10. What can a father say to that. How can I help? We all feel so useless….The world needs to know that is where our women are, where they are being enslaved, young and old alike.”

No Longer Just Statistics 

Khandhar Kaliph’s story attacks my heart, wrenching it into a pitted knot. I feel so deeply for him, for his daughter – and yet I wonder what I can do from here? How can my small life, sitting in comfortable safety even begin to comfort or care for his greatest needs at this time? 

Khandhar Kaliph’s story reminds me that these headlines aren’t simply sound bytes or 140-character news briefs – each one represents a single life and a thousand lives. And if I’m committed to ending slavery like easily and publicly claim, then this “conflict” must mean more to me than a current event. 

In northwest Iraq and in every single situation of modern-day slavery – for all 29.8 people – there is a face, a story, a human being behind the statistic, and their story and life matters. Not because it could be my sister or my child but because each and every one is a human being.

Action Against Trafficking in Iraq

Because of Khandhar Kaliph and countless, nameless others I’m committed to continued learning about his daughter’s fate, his people’s history and demands for justice. It means I’m committed, for the long haul, to pressuring authorities to hold the traffickers accountable for this crime, and I’m invested advocating for international aid and education so that both traffickers and vulnerable populations are less likely to become just that.

And please consider signing this petition 

At End Slavery Now we believe that we all have a role in ending slavery in our communities and worldwide, and we aim to help you find your role in this movement. This is one small but significant way you can join the anti-human trafficking movement and pressure international governments to investigate enslavement in this particular case.  

Will you sign the petition right now?


Topics: Sex Trafficking

About the Author



Brooke Hathaway

Brooke is the Executive Director of End Slavery Now, a project of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. Follow her on Twitter at @brooke_hath