ISIL's Abuse of Women and Girls Must Be Stopped

September 12, 2014
Woman in a Camp for Displaced Iraqis Who Fled Militants, August 6, 2014

Beheadings are not the only horrors perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIL.  Over the past two months, there has been a tragic stream of reports about thousands of women and girls abducted from their families and sold in markets. These violent extremists are attacking their own women and girls.

While captive, these women and children have been tortured, raped, given to ISIL thugs as “brides,” or kept as sex slaves. Some have committed suicide to avoid sexual enslavement. Others have been forced to watch as ISIL beat their children to coerce the women into converting to Islam. Some have simply been executed. Hundreds of women and girls have been taken from Iraq to ISIL camps in Syria and never heard from again.

We cannot allow these voices, these lives, to be silenced. All of us must stand up for those who are defenseless.

Reports indicate that ISIL has abducted between 1,500 to 4,000 women and girls, mainly from Iraq’s religious community of Yezidis and other minority groups. Girls as young as 12 or 13 have been forced to marry extremists or sold to the highest bidder -- like cattle at an auction.  These are young girls, mothers, and sisters facing imminent rape, trafficking, and forced marriage.  These are women and girls who pleaded to be killed in airstrikes rather than be brutalized by ISIL.

The stories are heart breaking, and terrifying. One 17-year-old Yezidi girl told an Italian newspaper that she was being kept as a sex slave by ISIL and wished she would be beaten enough to die. A 14-year-old girl described in another publication how her brother was killed in front of her and she was given to an ISIL leader as a concubine.

Such viciousness against innocents exposes ISIL’s blatant rejection of the most basic progress we have made as a community of nations and the universal values that bind civilization.

Americans can be proud that the United States helped when tens of thousands from the Yezidi community fled to Sinjar Mountain with nothing but the clothes on their backs to avoid genocidal attacks from ISIL.  Now, as we galvanize an international coalition to work with the newly formed Iraqi government to confront the evil represented by these extremists, we need to ensure ISIL’s horrendous treatment of women and girls is front and center.

That’s why, when we engage with the Iraqi government, we will be discussing how best to marshal resources to address ISIL’s targeting of women and girls and how to make sure those who have been abducted and trafficked are returned to their families.

This is not a task for the Iraqi government alone.  The international coalition being formed to combat ISIL must also offer resources and expertise to enable a resolute and inclusive Iraqi government to respond in a comprehensive way to this ISIL threat.

The de-humanization of women and girls is central to ISIL’s campaign of terror, through which it destroys communities, rewards its fighters and feeds its evil.  A coalition that fights ISIL must also fight this particularly egregious form of brutality.

This week, new UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein recognized the urgency in this fight and called for "dedicated efforts...to protect religious and ethnic groups, children -- who are at risk of forcible recruitment and sexual violence -- and women, who have been the targets of severe restrictions."

The United States continues to offer humanitarian assistance to help those displaced by ISIL advances in northern Iraq, and we will work with the new Iraqi government and the international community as we respond to the ISIL threat against the women and girls of the region.

As Secretary of State John Kerry and others have said, preventing this kind of brutalization of women and girls in conflict zones preserves our common humanity.  We must come together to ensure we end it.

About the Author: Catherine M. Russell serves as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues.

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Comments

Deborah S.
|
Massachusetts, USA
September 12, 2014
Catherine Russell are you employed by the State Department? You are an Ambassador-at-large for Global Woman's Issues? This sounds like an incredibly important appointment for you and for women who have no voice and suffering at the hands of those who would use and abuse helpless populations. There is a lot that happens behind the scenes that we, the public are not privy to. I am wondering if these women, now that they have been "defiled" by their captors and rapists (the point of view of many Islamic men) are now not a priority in terms of being rescued. I've wondered if this is a factor in the nonresponsive Nigerian Gov't in rescuing the Bok Haram kidnapped school girls. So are we only trying to protect vulnerable populations or are any attempts being made to rescue abducted women. You state in your article that many girls/women hope to be killed by airstrikes against ISIL. It seems to me the process of putting together coalitions to rescue and return captives to families is a lost cause. The international community never moves fast enough and the ability to rescue then because a near impossibility. I would like to see a permanent armed coalition force developed specifically to rescue innocent populations ready to act at the time of the crime and highly trained to make surgically correct strikes. There will always be collateral damage but there is a greater likelihood of success if the intervention is swift. I'm not sure how committed the Islamic community would be to do this. I still remember the Saudi girls school fire that the girls were not rescued in case the male fire fighters might see them in various stages of undress. This culture has so many taboos that are hard for us Westerners to understand.
Linda K.
|
Maryland, USA
September 12, 2014
Today is September 12, 2014. I applaud anyone who stands up to evil and ruthless criminals. No one, after everything, the United Nations has done up to this point, in getting rid of evil and hate, can sleep at night, knowing that evil once again, has taken hold and killing and enslaving human beings. The Nations as the world, need to work together, to rid this earth of this type of hate, once and for all. The United Nations, by showing a wall of strength, by action, not only, words, will win over this insidious hateful evil mentality.
Alex P.
|
Massachusetts, USA
September 12, 2014
While this is the first time I have heard of systematic sexual violence in this context, what is being reported here by the State Deaprtment is horrific. But I take issue with the writer's language that the victims of this violence are "their own women and girls." In no way do girls and women belong to men perpetrating sexual violence against them, and that applies no less to these people. Perhaps the intent is to indicate that all these people are from the same part of the world, or maybe share common ethnicity, but even that is simply not the case, let alone relevant. I hope the State Department will make this clear in a correction. Any victim of sexual violence would be appalled to hear this characterization.
Dar R.
|
Canada
September 13, 2014
ISIS destruction needs to be complete, through and swift. Can the worlds superpowers accomplish that task? Unfortunately it's highly doubtful. As long as religion remains the driving force behind the brutality....ISIS & others will repeat itself.
Alexandra S.
|
Massachusetts, USA
September 13, 2014
We, powerful nations of the world, MUST come together to put an end to this nightmare. My heart goes out to those families... I can't even describe the saddess I feel in that humans are capable of such horrific, evil actions towards others. It's sickening. We have a responsibility to put an end to it.
Patrick W.
|
Maryland, USA
September 13, 2014
I don't think we should use the name Islamic State when talking about these terrorist. They have nothing in common with the teachings of Islam. True Islamic People don't commit horrific crimes against women and children , or rob and kill their on people.
Janet T.
|
United States
September 13, 2014
You neglected to mentioned the thousands of Christians throughout the region that this has happened to, in addition to crucifixions of Christians in the region. Or was this an intentional omission?
John L.
|
United Kingdom
September 13, 2014
Thank God for the United States of America, the President, the Secretary of State and many many more who do all they can to promote peace and love across the world instead of hate and violence. May every other country be prepared to follow their example.

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