U.S. President Barak Obama is set to reveal his strategy against the Islamic State (ISIS) tonight. Yet, for some, the expected announcement of increased airstrikes, targeting safe havens in Syria and coalition building will not alleviate their suffering at the hands of this brutal group.
For the Yazidi and other minority girls and women who are being held in secret prisons in Mosul as well as in other locations, life has become an endless nightmare of rapes and beatings.
Cell phone calls the women have been able to make to their families have documented the horror of life for these women and girls as young as the age of 14 who have been abducted by militants from the Islamic State. Not only have these calls been the source of information about their dire condition, but they have been used as well as a form of torture.
Seventeen-year-old Mayat was forced to call her parents, who made it to safety in Kurdistan. She says her captors made her place the call “to hurt us even more. They told us to describe in detail to our parents what they are doing.”
The few women and girls who have managed to escape have reported that those who agree to convert to Islam are being sold to Islamic State fighters for as little as $25. Those that do not face never-ending rape, beatings and eventual death.
Mayat’s parents gave her number to an Italian journalist, to whom she agreed to speak. “Part of me would like to die immediately, to sink beneath the ground and say there. But another part that still hopes to be saved, and to be able to hug my parents once more,” she said in the interview.
Mayat reported that she is being held in a house guarded by armed men. She described three “rooms of horror” in the house, where the girls are taken several times a day and raped.
“They treat us like slaves. We are always ‘given’ to different men. Some arrive straight from Syria,” she said. “They threaten us and beat us if we try to resist. Often I wish they would beat me so hard I will die. But they are cowards even in this. None of them have the courage to end our suffering.”
Some of the young girls are so traumatized that they have stopped speaking. Other captives have tried to commit suicide.
Mayat says, “Sometimes I feel as though it will never end. And if it did, my life would remain forever scarred by the torture I have suffered the past few weeks. Even if I survive, I don’t think I’ll be able to remove this horror from my mind.”
The Kurdish Regional Government has been an address that families of the captive women and girls have turned to for help.
Pakhshan Zangana, an activist who is the head of the High Council of Women’s Affairs, is working tirelessly to secure the release of any captive possible, including funding their release. She has procured ransom money mainly from private donations. She has even turned to crowd sourcing to buy the women back from their captors. The council has pledged to pay back anyone who is willing to help immediately.
But for the women, Zangana says time is running out. “We have women and families calling in every day; the situation is getting desperate.”
Once the women are sold, it is much less likely that they will ever see their families again.
Mosul’s prison, the site of a massacre of Shiites when the Islamic State took it over, is said to currently house hundreds of Yazidi women in addition to others from Christian and Turkoman minorities.
“It’s sick,” Zangana said, trying to reign in her emotions. “[ISIS] went so far as to force the local beauticians to come in and dress them up, putting makeup on them then telling them to instruct the women to be submissive to their new husbands.”
As for Mayat, “They have already killed my body. They are now killing my soul,” she says.