ISIS Makes Rape Part of Its Theology

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Photo: Martyn Aim/Corbis

A new report from the New York Times illuminates how the Islamic State uses the systemized sexual slavery of Yazidi women and girls to exert control over its territories and recruit radicals into its fold. The extremist group uses theology to justify its brutal acts, claiming that the Koran "condones and encourages" raping women if they are not true believers of Islam.

Not only has rape become acceptable within ISIS's extreme interpretation of Islam, the group has gone so far as to codify it, writing how-to guides and memos outlining the dos and don'ts of sexual slavery. Young Yazidi girls and teens that the Times interviewed spoke of being raped by ISIS fighters who prayed before and after the event, viewing their behavior as an act of worship.

“Every time that he came to rape me, he would pray,” one 15-year-old girl said. "He said that raping me is his prayer to God. I said to him, ‘What you’re doing to me is wrong, and it will not bring you closer to God.’ And he said, ‘No, it’s allowed. It’s halal.'"

Other Yazidi women the Times spoke with described a thriving black market for sexual slavery, with sophisticated methods of holding, selling, and transporting the victims. According to the Times:

A total of 5,270 Yazidis were abducted last year, and at least 3,144 are still being held, according to community leaders. To handle them, the Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales contracts notarized by the ISIS-run Islamic courts. And the practice has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden.

ISIS has used sexual assault as a terror tactic for years, but as Foreign Policy pointed out last year, many in Washington refuse to explicitly address the issue, instead focusing on "harder" security issues like bombings and beheadings, and viewing the weaponization of rape as secondary. But, as Foreign Policy put it, "Sexual violence by terrorist organizations shouldn’t be seen as a 'women’s issue' just because most victims are women."