The battle against ISIS has been waged largely by men. But it is women and children who have borne some of the more horrific violence, with thousands forced into slavery, where they have been subjected to rape and other forms of torture.
Sexual violence has a long history in war, but ISIS has built it into their bureaucracy, with dedicated slave markets and price lists based on the victims’ ages, according to Zainab Hawa Bangura, the United Nations’ special representative on sexual violence in conflict.
ISIS fighters are not just allowed to rape with impunity. They are recruited with the promise of it. “This is a war that is being fought on the bodies of women,” Bangura said. “It’s important for us to recognize that.”
For those who manage to escape their captors, there are few resources to help them. The region is already struggling to support an ever-growing community of displaced people and refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria, and now the spread of ISIS. In Iraq alone, an estimated 5.6 million people have been displaced or otherwise affected by the violence, according to the UN. Many fled their homes ahead of advancing ISIS hordes, and now cannot return. They have crowded into camps for the displaced, taking shelter in sprawling tent cities.
The UN has asked for $498 million to provide food, water, shelter and some basic education and health care to those who have fled the reach of ISIS. So far, the UN has received only 30 percent of the total, said Grainne O’Hara, the deputy representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Baghdad.