Most Prevalent Issue of 2016: ISIS

In 2014, after ISIS fighters invaded the Nineveh province in Iraq and kidnapped thousands of Yezidis, these ISIS fighters sexually tortured the Yezidi women and girls (2). ISIS fighters raped the captives repeatedly, justifying their actions it by saying that Islam allows sex with slaves or women who don’t subscribe to ISIS’s idea of Islam (1).

After systemic rape and physical abuse, ISIS then forced women, even little girls, into marriages or sold them as sexual slaves to other buyers (2). ISIS used social media sites, such as Facebook, to sell the women in order to fund their campaign (1). In one case, a fighter was trying to sell girls on Facebook for $8,000 each, with guidelines for what horrendous acts were “allowed” to be committed against the girls being sold (2).

Hundreds of Yezidi women and girls have escaped captivity and returned to their homes, sometimes through the help of others. One man, Abdullah Shrem, and a team of smugglers dedicated themselves to saving Yezidi captives from ISIS (4). Per CNN’s report, he has rescued 240 Yezidis so far, although it has not been easy due to the dangers of smuggling people through ISIS territory (4).

Many people worried that girls and women who returned from captivity would be subject to further hardship due to the stigma attached to women who have experienced sexual violence. Blessedly, there has been a concerted effort in the Yezidi community to welcome the returning escapees despite their experience (3). Despite these efforts, these women still face hardships from the ineffective and insufficient healthcare in Kurdistan. Many also lack familial support as their family members are still lost, enslaved, or dead (2, 3). There are still hundreds of missing Yezidis being sold online, but the Human Rights Watch urges local and international leaders to pressure ISIS to release civilians and stop their tortures and the sex slave trade (2). We hope that people’s efforts to save Yezidi women and other captives will continue and be fruitful.  

We awarded “Most Prevalent Issue 2016” to this case to bring attention to the plight of Yezidi women, and to highlight that slavery is still rampant in this war-torn area. Rape is a recognized weapon of war and condemned by the international community. ISIS fighters are violating not only Yezedi women, but international conventions on conduct in wartime. We hope to bring this matter to the broader attention of the world to end the violation of women and use of rape as a weapon during war and conflict.



—by RNP

  1. Warrick, Joby. “ISIS Fighters Seem to Be Trying to Sell Sex Slaves Online.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 28 May 2016. Web.
  2. Human Rights Watch. “Iraq: ISIS Escapees Describe Systematic Rape.” Human Rights Watch. 14 April 2015. Web.
  3. Braunschweiger, Amy. “Interview: These Yezidi Girls Escaped ISIS. Now What?” Human Rights Watch. 2015. Web.
  4. Damon, Arwa, Hamdi Alkhshali, and Bryony Jones. “Meet the Man Saving Yazidi Slaves from ISIS.” CNN. Cable News Network, 2 June 2016. Web.

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