‘The saddest thing I remember was this little girl, 12 years old. They raped her without mercy’: Dressed in traditional wedding gowns, Yazidi sex slaves relive their torture by ISIS
- Women who were captured by ISIS and escaped tell their stories
- These Yazidi women were held for months, raped and tortured
- Most survived around seven to ten months in ISIS hands
More than 5,000 Yazidi women were captured and enslaved by ISIS forces when the militant Islamist terrorists attacked the city of Sinjar, northern Iraq in August 2014.
The women, some just teenagers, were forced to watch ISIS militants murder their families before they were sold into sexual slavery.
While many remain in the evil clutches of ISIS, some have managed to escape to relay horrific tales of abuse, rape, slavery and brutal torture.
In some cases, the young women returned home carrying the unborn children of their captors.
Seivan Salim, an Iraqi female photographer, tracked down some of the women who managed to escape.
She has portrayed them wearing the traditional white Yazidi wedding dress – a symbol for purity.
Each woman tells her story in her own words.
When ISIS came everyone fled to the mountain, but the militants captured them on the way and told them to stay in the village where they would be safe. They said that we would be freed. They lied. They took us to Syria by bus. I was with around four hundred other girls.
The man who chose me was very angry; he beat me and threatened to shoot me. He told me he would help reunite me with my parents who he claimed were almost certainly dead. I told him if he knew they were dead then he should kill me too. He took us to a farm where we hardly ate anything for eight days. They registered our names then they sold us again. Each time they took around four or five girls and sold them. Then came back again to take more of us.
One person bought me and brought me to Raqqa. He took me to an underground prison. I stayed there with other girls for twelve days. They came and hit my friends because they didn’t convert to Islam. One day they came to sell me again. There were five men one of whom was French. He asked me if I knew how to cook and if I spoke Arabic. I told him I didn’t.
He told me that I would learn and took me with him. He only took me to sell me again, this time to an old man from Saudi Arabia who lived with a Jordanian. I stayed in their house where they brought me a black abaya and some food. They left me in a room on the ground floor without locking it. I put on the abaya and ran away.
ROOBA, 28. From Kojo, Sinjar. Captured August 15, 2014. Held for 10 months.
We were in Tal Afar for two months then they brought us to Raqqa in Syria. There were about three hundred of us girls there, in a big hall. All the women had babies who cried because they were so hungry. The children were only given one egg a day.
The first night nine girls tried to flee. They tied their clothes together to make a rope and lowered themselves out of the window, but the ISIS fighters found them and brought them back. They hit all of us because we didn’t tell them about their escape.
They put us all in a big room, locked the door and didn’t give us any water. Then one day they brought us to another building. On the front was written something like ‘area for selling’ and there I was sold to a forty year-old man from Saudi Arabia.
He asked me to marry him and when I refused he pointed to three objects sitting on his table; a knife, a gun, and rope. He said he’d use all three if I didn’t say yes. I refused over and over again, so he beat me. He beat my niece, who is only 3 years-old.
I was sold again, this time to a single man who wanted to marry me. I refused with all my might and again was beaten, and again they beat my little niece. He tried to rape me and when he couldn’t he sold me again.
In the new house I did all the work: cleaning, cooking and washing. The man who bought me said that he had to sleep with me to make me a real Muslim. I told him that if he slept with me I would become his wife and then I would not be a slave any more. His wife threatened to leave if he slept with me.
She got very angry at my niece because she couldn’t speak Arabic: she put pepper in her mouth and locked her in a room without water; she beat her so much you can still see the wounds today.
They wouldn’t let me change her diapers for a week. We were only allowed to eat small portions of food because after all we were slaves and we shouldn’t expect to have much food.
NASIRA, 18. From Kojo, Sinjar area. Captured August 15, 2014. Held for 11 months.
When ISIS arrived they tried to convert us to Islam. We all just cried, even my father. They brought us all to a school, took all our money and possessions. We heard that they killed four trucks full of men from our village.
When we heard the planes flying overhead I prayed they would bomb our men. It would have been better than being killed by ISIS. I also wished they drop bombs on us. I’d preferred to be killed by shelling than be captured by ISIS.
I was not sold but they brought me to Raqqa in Syria and gave me to a Saudi family as a gift, as a slave. I stayed there for eight months. They brought us to the school to teach us the Quran.
I saw the beheaded and crucified body of a YPG fighter [Syrian Kurdish militia fighting ISIS]. It was terrible.
SYHAN, 30. From Kojo, Sinjar. Captured August 15, 2014. Held for 10 months.
Syhan fell pregnant during her captivity and escaped when she was in her eighth month. She stayed in Turkey for two months until the baby was born.
She came back to northern Iraq but wasn’t able to bring the baby with her from Turkey; she doesn’t know where he is.
AZHIN, 22. From Kojo, Sinjar. Date of capture August 15, 2014. Held for 11 months.
At first we were in prison in Raqqa for fifteen days. They behaved like animals. They traded us like you would with a car. A man from Saudi Arabia bought me and I was taken to a house where two other men lived as well. I begged him to let me be with my sister. He hit me on the head with his pistol until I bled. They didn’t take me to the hospital. Instead they took me back to the prison while I was still unconscious.
My sister was sold three days later and I was heartbroken. But, we were reunited when I was sold later – along with seven other girls – to the same people. We were kept in a house during the day. Different men would come and pick us up for the night. We stayed like that for five months. There was not enough food and we couldn’t wash. I was sold again.
This time for two months to a man from Tajikistan. He was later killed fighting, so I was sold again, and then again, but this time I was given as a present. I was forced to have sex up to six times per night. They always fastened my legs and arms when they raped me.
One time I tried to run away but they caught me again. They didn’t feed me for six days and three times a day they would give me twelve lashes with a cable.I don’t know anything about my mum, dad and brothers. All I know is that my sisters were captured too.
DELVIN, 27. From Kojo, Sinjar. Captured August 15, 2014. Held for four months.
They separated the women from the others and brought us to a school where we stayed for two months. Then they moved us to several different places. I don’t know exactly where. At last we arrived to Raqqa, in Syria. After twelve days they sent me to a Syrian family.
I was pregnant and I had other children with me. They were very cruel to us. Even though I was pregnant they would beat me and try to have sex with me. If I didn’t accept to have sex with the men of the family, they would force me anyway.
They raped me over and over again. I was sold again, this time to a family from Saudi Arabia. They took one of the boys who was with me to be trained as a jihadi. I never saw him again. I stayed there for a month and a half. I moved again to another city where my baby was born. I was raped there too, despite the fact that I just had given birth.
SHADI, 18. From Kojo, Sinjar. Captured August 15, 2014. Held for five months.
When they arrived it was night. They surrounded the city so we couldn’t leave. They took all the men away, but we didn’t know where. Then a thirteen-year old boy came back, covered in dust and crying. He told us that the men had all been killed, but we didn’t believe him. The ISIS fighters gathered the young girls to one side. They took us to Tal Afar where we didn’t have any food or water.
They moved us from place to place for weeks before taking us to Syria. In Raqqa we were put underground. It was so dark that I couldn’t tell day from night. They wrote our names on papers around our necks, and sold us like that. Eight of us were sent to Aleppo and I ended up with another woman and my nephew in a large villa.
There was an American man there, who did not speak Arabic. He told me that I must marry him to become Muslim. He asked me to wash myself and then marry him. I told him that I was pregnant and could not have sex, so he brought me to a doctor and when he found out that I lied he beat me.
He tied my hands with a cable and raped me. We tried to escape many times. Each time he would find us, aided either by the militia at the checkpoints, or people who lied to us and instead of helping us would call him.
Every time he’d beat us more and more. There were people in Aleppo, however, who were just trying to survive. I knew this, and I knew that I just needed to get lucky and find one. We tried and tried, until somebody helped us. We escaped, but still we don’t know anything about my uncles, my cousins and my brothers.
MUNA, 18. From Kojo, Sinjar. Captured August 15, 2014. Held for four months.
ISIS forced me to go with them when I was in Tal Afar. They said, ‘If you don’t come with us we will behead your two young brothers.’ So I went with a man to Mosul.
I worked for his family as a slave. They forced me to convert to Islam. Even though he had a wife and a family he raped me continuously.
ISIS still has five members of my family and I don’t know where they are or if they’re still alive.
DLO, 20. From Kojo, Sinjar area. Captured August 15, 2014. Held for eight months.
It was 11 in the morning when ISIS came to our village; we were making lunch. They came into our house, grabbed us and brought us to the school.
They separated the men, women, and girls. We didn’t know what was going to happen to the men. We didn’t know that they would kill them all.
We were taken to Tal Afar along with other girls. ISIS militants would come to the house to select girls for their pleasure and take them away with them.
NASIMA, 22. From Kojo, Sinjar. Captured August 15, 2014. Captured for nine months.
They came to us and said that they would leave us alone. Then they came and told us we had to convert to Islam otherwise they would behead us. They gave us time to think and then they came back again saying that they would let us go, but instead they brought us to a school, took our money and our possessions. They separated the men from the women and left us inside. Then we heard the shooting. We thought they were killing animals not our men.
In Mosul sheiks and emirs came and looked at us. They were buying us. I was sold to a man who took me to Tal Afar. When we arrived I was forced into marriage. That night he tied my hands and legs and he blindfolded me. Then he raped me. I never stayed long in one place: Mosul, Bashika, Baaj, Kojo, Sinjar. He kept moving around and he always brought me with him. I tried to run away twice, but he caught me and beat me for three days in a row. Sometimes I would go a whole week with no food, sometimes more. I was always locked inside a room as if I was in prison.
I was in Mosul when I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore and I needed to leave. I was scared, but I put on a black abaya and went in the streets. I got on a taxi, told the taxi driver I was escaping from slavery and begged him to help me. I was lucky because he helped me. He called my brother and asked to arrange a smuggler. My brother knew a driver in Mosul who he trusted and asked him to bring me to Badush where he would collect me. I was taken to the Peshmerga [Kurdish soldiers] and I was free. My two sisters and two brothers are still with ISIS.
The first time a member of ISIS raped me, he hit me with a whip. He washed me and forced me to marry him. He was about 30 years-old and had four children. He wanted me to give him a baby. The man dealt with explosives and moved around a lot. I saw them placing mines in several different cities. When they heard an airplane they would send me out; they thought that if the pilots saw me they would not bomb them. I hoped they would.
JIHAN, 20. From Sinon, Sinjar. Captured August 4, 2014. Length of captivity: 10 months.
They put me and fourteen other girls on a truck and they took us to Mosul. We were all young and pretty. We didn’t stay in Mosul long; they took us to a small village where we stayed for fifteen days.
The conditions there were terrible. They put us in filthy room and we all got sick. Then we were taken to Raqqa in Syria. They told us that we would be sold, some as slaves, some as brides for the fighters. It was hot, unbearably hot, and there were one hundred and fifty of us in a house without windows, without air.
One afternoon about twenty men entered the house and started beating us. They shouted that we were their slaves and we should obey them and do whatever we were told to do. They told us that they would punish us, but never kill us because they preferred to torture us.
SHIRIN, 22. From Kojo, Sinjar. Captured August 15, 2014. Held for seven months.
My whole family was taken at night except for one of my brothers. They brought us to a school and took our phones, money, gold; everything. They put the women and children on a bus and we were taken to Mosul at night, to be sold. I was sold to a man who came from Albania. He lived together with five other families and I became the group’s slave.
I was forced to clean, to pray like a Muslim and to have sex with all of them. I stayed with them for 4 months before they sold me again, this time to a family in Syria where I had to take care of the children.
After two months, I decided to flee. I covered myself in black and left the house. On the way I asked for help from a stranger in the streets. I was lucky. They brought me to a house where I could call my brother. He managed to get money from an NGO and I was smuggled through the border into Turkey. My family is still somewhere in ISIS territory.
MAYSA, 18. From Talqasab, Sinjar. Captured August 3, 2014. Held for ten months.
We were farmers and had a large piece of land that we all looked after. In the village half of us were Muslim, the other half Yazidi.
I was in love with a boy from the village and we wanted to get married. I don’t know what happened to him after ISIS arrived.
At three in the morning we heard the first gunshots and then airplanes flying. By morning we realized that every Yazidi family was gone. Only Muslim families were left. We ran to our neighbor and borrowed his truck to leave the village. We set off toward the mountain, but ISIS fighters stopped us on the way. They were from different countries, not only from Iraq: Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. They told us to get out of the truck. The road was full of corpses; they killed many people.
They separated the girls from everyone else and brought us to Baadj in their jeeps. My mum tried to come with us, but they hit her with the butt of a gun and knocked her down. We didn’t eat for three days; we only cried. They told us not to be afraid, that they would not hurt us. They had a problem with the government they said, not with the people.
Then they brought us to Badush prison. It was dark and packed with people. I found my uncle’s wife and she told me that she didn’t know if my mother was there. I spent the night looking for her among the many women and finally found her in the morning. I held her tight for those few hours before they took her away again. They separated the young girls and brought us to Mosul.
In Mosul we were inside a two-storey building, five hundred of us. A sheik came. He had a stick in one hand and a book in the other. He had come to convert us to Islam. We said the words he asked us to say and according to the man we were now Muslim and had to go with them. One morning at five they picked us up, forced us to put on black abayas, chained our hands, blindfolded us and forced us on to a bus.
They drove for twelve hours until we arrived in Syria. We stayed in a prison for two days and on the third day they brought us to a mosque and left us under the sun like animals. We were like sheep in the bazar. The sheik called the men to come and see us, and choose between Yazidi and Christian girls. The men did not want the Christians though; they all wanted us, the Yazidi girls.
One man chose me and put me in a car. I was in his house for three months. At first he wanted to ‘purify’ me from being Yazidi and forced me to give up my rings, my clothes and all those things that recalled my religion, my identity. He wanted to ‘teach me how to behave’ so I was taken to live with other Yazidi girls who had been forced to marry men from Saudi Arabia. They told me that I had to marry him, even if I did not want to.
Then my owner came back to collect me and I started working in his house. The television was always on religious channels, reciting the Quran all the time. I did not eat their food, only bread and water. One time, when I refused to wash, he hit me with his gun and told me that he would beat me to death if I did not wash myself. But I did not want to wash because I knew that if I washed he would sleep with me. I did not wash for three months.
I tried to escape once, but the soldiers found me in the streets and brought me back. The man beat me hard and whipped me with an electrical cable. He told me that if I did not want to stay there and marry him he would sell me to somebody worse. He gave me three days to think about it. The next day, when he was not there, his wife came to me and told me that she could help me escape to a Kurdish family living in the neighborhood.
She took me there when her husband was out and I asked the Kurdish family to help me; I begged them. But they were scared because even though they were Muslim, they were still Kurdish and could not hide me there without great danger. My captor eventually found me there. He beat me and shaved my hair off. I asked him to sell me to the Kurdish family; again I begged him. He told me that I would be forced to marry a Kurdish boy, but if this was what I wanted he would sell me to them.
I was sold for $1,500 and went to live in their house. I cried when I saw the woman because she reminded me of my mother. She cried too. They told me that they had bought me for my own safety, not to become their slave.
I stayed with them for 5 months. Then one day we were able to arrange a rendezvous with my father at the Turkish border. The Kurdish man gave me his daughter’s ID and drove me to the border where I was finally rescued.
QALIYA, 21. Talqasab – Sinjar area. Captured August 3, 2014. Held for 10 months.
When I was in Mosul I tried to flee by running to Sinjar mountain. I found a small empty house where I sat and waited, but they came looking for me and they found me.
A man asked ‘Why did you flee? Are you afraid that we will kill you?’ I replied that I preferred to die. They took me back to my captor’s house where he pushed me inside a room, closed the door and started to whip me.
After that he hit me with a cable and then fastened my legs and hung me by the legs to the fan on the ceiling and then started to hit me again. He took me down and told me that my punishment would continue for three days and I would have nothing to eat nor drink.
He also told me that if I ran away again he would tie me to two cars and then split me in two. Three days later he let me out of the room.
AMAL, 18. From: Talqasab, Sinjar. Captured August 3, 2014. Held for 11 months.
We heard heavy shooting outside at around three in the morning and we immediately ran towards Mt. Sinjar. At around noon we were stopped by ISIS. We had almost reached the mountain; we were almost safe.
They took all of us, fourteen members of my family. They took us to Sinjar and then Tal Afar. The fighters were scared of coalition airstrikes so kept moving from town to town around Mosul.
They separated the women from the men and brought me with seventeen other girls back to Tal Afar. They kept moving us around: first Zommar for a month, then Kasrolmehrab where we stayed for three months and lastly Hayolkhazra.
Here my mother was taken away from me. After six months they took me back to Tal Afar again. The worst thing I saw was the killings in Sinjar. I saw so many corpses on the road; it was terrible. The saddest thing I remember, during those terrible months, was this little girl, 12 years old. They raped her without mercy.