PHOTO: Shayra, Iraq – May 28, 2017: A young Yazidi woman sits with her three children inside a tent in Sharya IDP camp in northern Iraq. They and their families fled the 2014 ISIS advance in which many Yazidis were killed and others, especially women and children, captured and trafficked by ISIS.
It is about time we face the horrifying fact that men with a history of sexual violence and domestic abuse are attracted to organisations like Islamic State precisely because of its systemic use of rape and slavery as a form of terrorism.
Sexual violence by extremist groups is central to recruiting, retaining, and rewarding fighters – as well as punishing disbelievers. The sexual exploitation of girls alongside human trafficking has helped to consolidate Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Boko Haram in Nigeria. It is used to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating prohibited, into the organisations on the promise of women.
Indeed, markets selling sex slaves were frighteningly common in areas under the control of IS. A human slave market in Libya is thought to buy and sell girls for thousands of dollars.
We must therefore better highlight this issue and call upon national and international actors to take action against this horrifying practice.
One of the most heartbreaking accounts brought to light in a report I published last year describes how Islamic State members would touch the chests of young girls to see whether they had developed breasts. If they had done, they would be raped, and if not, they would be subjected to another examination months later.
A 13-year-old from Iraq was told by her tormentor that rape was not a sin, as the Quran encouraged and condoned raping kuffar (disbelievers). He said that by raping her he was “drawing closer to God”. He would kneel and pray before and after each attack.
Not only are these shocking acts being committed to terrorist victims and galvanize recruits, but they have also developed into a key funding source for these groups. That is particularly true for a group such as Islamic State: its territory has disappeared, its taxation is gone, and it has lost its ability to trade oil, both because its diminishing access and the downward trend in oil prices across the globe. As these groups decline further, there is a chance that, without genuine action, the trend will multiply – as cash-strapped terrorists try to increase their funding via other avenues.
So what can be done? One of my key recommendations is for the British government to take a lead on this issue, creating a legal task force that would be spearheaded from Number 10 but with the support, backing and funding of other international partners such as NGOs and other national governments. Another key move would be to help structure national laws in conflict-stricken countries so that they can tackle the sexual exploitation of their people and prevent the offenders from escaping criminal action. One such national law that must be addressed in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Nigeria currently allows rapists to marry their victims to avoid prosecution.
This problem, which has become both a financial and ideological pursuit for terrorists, will not be simple to solve. The International Criminal Court has only had one successful prosecution of sexual violence; it is a very new legal space and one that will require international efforts to establish and conquer.
Our inaction on sexual violence and human trafficking carried out by terrorists is contributing to far too many young and vulnerable girls losing their childhood. It has to end.