The United Nations envoy on sexual violence detailed Monday how Islamic State (IS, or ISIS) militants are selling young girls into sexual slavery and inflicting horrific sexual violence on female abductees.
Zainab Bangura met with women and girls in April who had escaped from areas controlled by the terrorist group, and this week told Agence France-Presse about what she had heard.
She explained how large groups of abducted girls were kept in cramped conditions, subjected to abuse and assigned monetary value by a group of militants before being sold. In one case, a 15-year-old girl was sold off to an ISIS leader in his 50’s who taunted her desire to commit suicide before raping her.
In some cases, teenage girls were sold in ISIS militant slave markets for “as little as a pack of cigarettes,” said Bangura. The group continues to run this slave trade as they abduct more women and girls in the territory they take over, she explained.
Bangura’s accounts are the latest in ISIS’ well-documented history of abhorrent sexual violence against women. A Human Rights Watch report released in April documented systematic rape and forced marriage of Yazidi minority women. Women and girls who escape also face continuing trauma from their experiences, and largely lack the psychosocial support required. According to a recent Amnesty International report, many of the girls held by ISIS as sexual slaves have been driven to suicide.
Yazidi religious leader Baba Sheikh has issued repeated calls for acceptance and reintegration of survivors of ISIS abuse, something that Bangura praised on Monday.
The UN has repeatedly condemned the use of sexual violence by ISIS, with Bangura stating last month that the group has “institutionalized sexual violence and the brutalization of women as a central aspect of their ideology and operations, using it as a tactic of terrorism to advance their key strategic objectives.”
The group uses abducted women to attract young male foreign fighters who make up a significant portion of its forces, according to analysts. ISIS has also issued commandments and pamphlets on the proper protocol for sexual slavery under its interpretation of Islamic Law, the BBC reported.
Bangura stated that the exact number of women and girls enslaved by ISIS militants is not currently known.
The use of sexual violence as a weapon of war is a devastatingly common practice among extremist groups. A recent UN report identified 19 conflict-ridden countries where sexual violence including rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution and forced pregnancy occur in the context of war, mainly against women and girls but also against boys and men.
The UN report also listed 45 groups in Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Congo, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria as well as Boko Haram in Nigeria that are “credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of rape” in conflict, concluding these extremist groups were using sexual violence as part of a systematic terror campaign.