Westerners are often shielded from the full reality of ISIS's brutal rule in Syria and Iraq. But this leaked video of ISIS fighters bartering over sex slaves is a window into just how horrifying life in the Islamic State really is.
Unearthed and translated by Jenan Moussa, a reporter at Dubai's Al Aan network, the video shows a group of alleged ISIS fighters sitting around on what they call "slave market day." One man, citing Islamic law justifications ISIS has used in its propaganda outlets to justify slavery, offers to purchase all of the women for sale: "whoever wants to sell, I can buy, my brothers." He and several men discuss whether to pay in bank notes (units equivalent to roughly $100) or pistols. It's deeply appalling, disturbing stuff:
Aside from the sheer horror of the video, there are three important things to say about it.
First, you'll notice they're talking about Yazidi women — particularly the leering specimen who keeps yelling "where is my Yazidi girl?" The Yazidis are a religious minority heavily concentrated in northern Iraq. They're a tiny group, with roughly 500,000 members worldwide. In the past few months, ISIS has launched an extermination campaign with one goal: destroying the Yazidi people.
As Vice's Liz Fields explains, one component of that campaign is enslaving Yazidi women. One academic estimate suggests that ISIS has kidnapped more than 2,500 Yazidi women. Nazand Begikhani, one of the researchers behind the estimate, told CNN that captured women "have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They've been exposed in markets in Mosul [a city in Iraq] and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags."
There's a second reason that ISIS might enslave women like this. Part of their recruiting pitch, specifically for young men, is selling a vision of adventure. Their propaganda portrays the fight as a holy, glorious war in which the righteous are rewarded handsomely for their fighting. Handing violent young men sex slaves is a way of giving those men what they came for. It functions as a sick kind of retention program — and one that, according to Yale University's Elisabeth Wood, happens in war zones around the world.
Third, and finally, ISIS's female soldiers play a role in this as well. ISIS has multiple women's brigades, essentially tasked with enforcing strict ISIS rules on other women. The group attracts female recruits — Sunni Muslims, and obviously not Yazidis or Shias — in a fashion that's in important ways similar to and distinct from the way it recruits men. ISIS is a complex organization — but, most importantly, an awful one.