One thing you notice, interviewing the survivors, is they all sit the same way: knees pulled to their chests, arms encircling their knees, hugging themselves tightly as they talk, wanting to share but also recoil from violent memories of their captivity at the hands of Islamic State.
ISIS may be defeated on the battlefield, but one thing is clear: Families made Islamic State a state. The presence of women, children, schools, and commerce lent legitimacy to an illegitimate stake in the territory militants once controlled (one-third of both Syria and Iraq until 2017), a base from where they launched attacks on Paris, Brussels, London, and elsewhere.
Forced in March from its final stronghold in Syria, ISIS fighters with their thousands of burqa-clad women and children have fled the Syrian city of Baghuz into the desert. Public attention has focused on their plight without distinction between women who voluntarily joined ISIS and captives enduring its brutal slavery.
Yet inside Islamic State, the situation for non-Muslim captives and Muslim adherents could not be more different. ISIS treats the former as property, not people. Sexual violence and other war crimes, often momentary, these women have endured for years. Those interviewed for this story told me of being chained to walls, left in dark basements with dozens of women and children, without toilet facilities or even a bucket, for days. Some were starved, and nearly all were raped.
Even as Iraqi, Syrian, and U.S. coalition forces beat back ISIS occupation, the atrocities haven’t ended. Of more than 6,700 Yazidi women and girls captured, 3,000 are still in captivity.
Yet hundreds of Yazidi women have managed to escape over the last 4½ years. Most are young women, some are girls. Martine is no different, except for this one thing I can’t get past when I first meet her: She is 12 years old.
Read more at World Magazine.