ISIS’s Sex Slavery Flourishes, Emboldened by Legal and Religious Justifications

[DIGEST: New York Times, Human Rights Watch, The Independent, Public Radio International]

There is a crisis going on right now in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Thousands of Yazidi girls and women are being isolated from their families and held in pens. They are being photographed and given numbers to advertise them to potential buyers before being auctioned off for a life of sexual slavery, to be raped at their “owner’s” will, all in the name of God. Those who refuse are killed. It is a modern-day slave ring, one not only sanctioned by, but encouraged by, ISIS governing structures. This is not something that happened hundreds of years ago. This is happening right now. Right now, women are being sold for as little as $75.

Second Nexus
“Yazidi refugees” by DFID – UK Department for International Development (picture: Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee)

Legalizing Sex Slavery

The buying and selling of women and children by ISIS has become so commonplace that the process has become heavily formalized. A question-and-answer document issued by what appears to be ISIS’s Research and Fatwa Department states “It is permissible to buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property, which can be disposed of….”

The Islamic State has developed a bureaucracy around the practice, including the use of court-sanctioned sales contracts. The women are treated as any other piece of property, and can therefore be willed to another man or otherwise disposed of through contract. The victims can be set free through a Certificate of Emancipation, but this is rare.

Religious Underpinnings

ISIS bases their systematic selling and trading of women for sexual purposes on a narrow and selective reading of the Quran and the Sunna. They argue that Yazidi civilians may be enslaved because they are polytheists with an oral tradition rather than written scripture, and therefore are outside the protections of the Quran.

ISIS’s publications underscore the perceived religious underpinnings to the rapes, and profess disbelief that others—even internally—may disagree. As reported by the New York Times, one ISIS devotee wrote “What really alarmed me was that some of the Islamic State’s

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