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How Islamic State systematically turns girls into sex slaves

The Islamic State militants have imposed a brutal, ritualistic sex slave trade on thousands of women and girls who belong to the Yazidi sect, a persecuted religious minority. Rukmini Callimachi of The New York Times joins Judy Woodruff from Northern Iraq to discuss her reporting on the human toll of the Islamic State’s rule.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now to the human toll exacted by the Islamic State during its rule over parts of Iraq and Syria.

    For that, we turn to New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi, who wrote today of a brutal, ritualistic sex slave trade that the Islamic State has imposed on thousands women and girls. They belong to the Yazidi sect. It's a persecuted religious minority.

    And Rukmini joins me now from Northern Iraq via Skype.

    Rukmini, welcome.

    I think people can tell from the subject that this is a really horrific thing that you were writing about. And I just want to warn our viewers before we go any further.

    But remind us how this all started just about exactly a year ago, when ISIS was on the move in Iraq.

  • RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, The New York Times:

    It was exactly a year ago, on August 3 of 2014.

    ISIS had recently taken the city of Mosul. And they then set their sights on Mount Sinjar, which is just to the north. They invaded Mount Sinjar. And people assumed that — initially that it was just another part of their expansion strategy.

    But from the very beginning, it was clear that there was something else going on. Survivors tell us that men and women were immediately separated within the first hour, and that the fighters arrived with fleets of buses and empty trucks, and that those were used to herd the women away.

    So they came with a plan to take the women and girls for the sexual conquest that then followed.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What did they do with these women? You write how they transported them and took them to different locations. How did they treat them?

  • RUKMINI CALLIMACHI:

    What happened is they were initially taken to a series of, if you will, holding pens. Most of them were in the city of Mosul inside the Galaxy Wedding Hall, inside the Ministry of Youth, inside a former prison.

    And the women say that they arrived at these enormous halls. They were already outfitted with plates, with accoutrements, with food, so they had planned to put large numbers of people there. And they — very soon after, ISIS fighters showed up, and they began doing a very detailed survey of the people in their possession. The women were asked to give their first, middle and last name, their village, their marital status, the number of children that they have.

    And then they were asked incredibly personal questions, such as, how long ago did you have your last period? And they then divined from this that the fighters were trying to figure out if they were pregnant or not, because there is a Sharia ruling about not being able to have sex with a pregnant slave.

    And from there, the women were further separated into young and old, beautiful and unattractive. And, in batches, they were taken away, and then bought and then further sold to fighters, who used them as sex slaves.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you had some very I'm sure difficult conversations, interviews with these women, the women who were able to escape the ISIS fighters. What kinds of things did they tell you?

  • RUKMINI CALLIMACHI:

    You know, Judy, I have done interviews with rape victims all over the world, in Congo, in Guinea, in Mali, and these are some of the hardest interviews that I have done.

    The horrors that these women are — were forced to endure really challenged the imagination. What they talk about is how systematic the rape was and how they tried to, you know, protest and they tried to ask the fighters, why are you doing this to me? And everything was cloaked in a religious justification.

    They told them, you are infidels. You are unbelievers.

    The Yazidis, of course, are not Muslim. They believe in seven angels and are therefore considered polytheists by ISIS. And the fighters explained to them that, because of your lack of faith, the Koran gives us the right to rape you, and whatever we do to you is not only justified in scripture; it is considered virtuous.

    And among the most difficult interviews to do were with these very young women. One was 12. Another was 15. And they described how the fighters got on the floor and prostrated both in prayer before getting on top of them and raping them. And then after the rape, they would go and take a shower and then pray again.

    So the acts of the sexual assault itself, the acts of rape were bookended in an act of religious devotion.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And this was repeated. This went on for months and months. Hundreds of these women are still being held in captivity. This is still happening to them.

    Finally, just quickly, Rukmini, you wrote about one woman whose captor gave her a paper of emancipation. What happened?

  • RUKMINI CALLIMACHI:

    This is what's really curious about this, Judy. It really reminds you of what happened in the American South in the pre-abolition times.

    There is a scriptural basis for release of slaves. It is considered very virtuous. And so what we found is that, in the case when a woman was bought by a suicide bomber, and at the moment when the suicide bomber was getting ready to set off on his final mission, in two cases that I spoke to, that I interviewed, the women were given a certificate of emancipation, and they were freed.

    And they were — in the case of one of the girl, I was actually able to see the certificate and we were allowed to photograph it. It gave her basically the right to be a free Muslim woman. It says that she is under — under the rule of the Islamic State and has all of the duties and responsibilities of being a Muslim woman.

    And this certificate that she got laminated allowed her to pass the checkpoints that finally allowed her to move to safely and return to her family last month here in Northern Iraq.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, there is so much more to this story. It is just incredibly disturbing. And we have really only begun to touch on it. I highly recommend it to anyone, to everyone to read more of this.

    Rukmini Callimachi joining us from Iraq, we thank you.

  • RUKMINI CALLIMACHI:

    Thank you.

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