In the wake of U.S. President Obama’s announcement last week of his plan to combat ISIS, press attention around the militant group continues to grow. However, information on the group’s extensive involvement in human trafficking continues to receive little attention.
The Islamic militant group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has established a large presence in the Syrian Civil War and in June 2014 launched a major offensive in Northern Iraq. In August 2014, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated that ISIS had 50,000 fighters in Syria and 30,000 in Iraq. In both conflicts, ISIS has become known for brutal tactics, including the mass killing of civilians, public executions, crucifixions, and other acts. Both the United Nations and Amnesty International have accused ISIS of grave human rights abuses.
Their violent tactics have also included sex trafficking and slavery. In August an Iraqi Special Forces group arrived at an abandoned military checkpoint to find a woman naked and bound who had been repeatedly raped. As they traveled further into the neighborhood they found another woman in the same state.
As little else has been published on ISIS’s abuse of woman, Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, has emerged as an authority and strong voice on this issue. Dr. Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars published a piece entitled “ISIS’s Cruelty Towards Women Gets Scant Attention” in The Wall Street Journal. In the piece Dr. Esfandiari details ISIS’s “barbarity against women,” including forced marriages, enslavement, rape, and forced female genital mutilations.
Since Dr. Esfandiari’s piece, and as more women and girls escape from ISIS, attention on the issue has slowly risen. Recent reports state that as many as 2,500 women have been captured by ISIS near Iraq’s Nineveh Province alone. This week, Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper interviewed a 17-year old woman who was captured by ISIS in Iraq on August 3. The young woman, from the Yazidi religious minority, said she was one of a group of about 40 Yazidi women and girls, some younger than 13-years old, who were still held captive and enduring daily sexual abuse by ISIS fighters. She was able to speak to the newspaper because the ISIS fighters had recently returned her mobile phone to her, encouraging her to detail to her family the abuse she was enduring. A similar report came from a 16-year old Yazidi woman who was “sold” and released by an unknown benefactor.
In an email to Human Trafficking Search, Dr. Esfandiari speculated over potential reasons why the media has failed to focus on this issue:
“Perhaps, it is because the focus of the [Obama] Administration and the media has been on the security threat posed by ISIS, while a strong case against ISIS can be made on the basis of their mistreatment and exploitation of women and their violation of human rights in general. I believe that if there were a strong voice in the administration, like that of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she was at the State Department, on the plight of women in ISIS lands, the media would have paid more attention.”
Why do you think this issue has received so little media attention?