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Iraqi Sunni Women Reluctantly Share ISIS Trauma

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(Illustrative photo: © Reuters)

Six Iraqi Sunni women share the horrors they have faced at the hands of ISIS, while many others like them still seek support.

In January 2017, researchers at Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit human rights organization, were able to interview six Iraqi Sunni women in Kirkuk who suffered at the hands of ISIS captors in Hawija, a town still under Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) control.

“Little is known about sexual abuse against Sunni Arab women living under ISIS rule,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

One of the women interviewed told of being forced to marry her radicalized cousin who threatened to kill her parents if she did not marry him.

Another woman was trapped in a room in her own home where she saw ISIS fighters bring different girls, exh around the age of 16, to another room in the house each day for an hour, where she believes they were sexually assaulted.

One woman’s home was blown up by ISIS fighters. And another was beaten and raped daily in front of her children after she refused to marry the local ISIS leader.

Experts at international organizations have found it difficult to assess the prevalence of ISIS’ gender-based violence against women like those who were interviewed because the victims and their families fear stigmatization and damage to the victims’ reputations.

A psychiatrist at an international organization providing psychosocial support in one of the larger displaced people’s camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq said that very often, male relatives will forbid women from getting counseling and vocational training, even if the women themselves want these services.

The women interviewed were all patients at the Kirkuk Center, where a staff of 12 provides psychological and behavioral counseling to women and children. Dr. Abd al-Karim Kalyfa, who runs the center, said in January that the center was at that time treating 30 patients, 15 of them children, who were suffering from trauma related to their experiences living under ISIS.

He expressed great concern at the lack of necessary support for these women and could think of only one other organization that was providing support for victims of sexual-assault in the Kirkuk area.

Another medical professional in Kirkuk said that services provided by the federal government focus on providing medication for victims and not on psychosocial therapy and counseling.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that mental health services and psychosocial support are essential components of comprehensive care for survivors of sexual violence.

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