To hell and back

Stunning profiles tell tales of Yazidi women who escaped ISIS

In a series of stunning profiles, ten young Yazidi women who have escaped the hold of ISIS soldiers have shared their stories with The Daily Beast in a captivating longform piece published this week. Each story tells of unique circumstance, but all of the women sing a similar, tragic song: because the Islamic State does not recognize their Yazidi religion, they were kidnapped, abused and sold as slaves. “Think on that a moment: ‘slaves.’ It’s not a figurative term, it is literal bondage: humans as chattel to be bought and sold, forced to work, and raped at will,” wrote Seivan M. Salim, who also captured haunting portraits of the survivors, all dressed in white.

Most of the women were kidnapped in or around the town of Sinjar, Iraq after it fell to ISIS rule in 2014. Separated from their families (members of which are still missing or dead) and sold at slave markets (“They wrote our names on papers around our necks, and sold us,” 18-year-old Shadi said), the women faced starvation and repeated beatings, abuse, and rape at the hands of their captors. All ten women profiled are under 30, including Amal, 18, who was held captive for 11 months. “They took all of us, 14 members of the family,” she said. “The worst thing I saw was the killings in Sinjar. I saw so many corpses on the road: it was terrible. I remember one of the saddest moments there, during those terrible months, was this little girl, twelve years old. They raped her with no mercy.”

Many of the women interviewed refused to wash, in hopes that it would deter sexual advances, which worked in some cases, but not in others. “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,” 18-year-old Maysa said. “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.” Escape came for many upon discovery of a cell phone, then with the help of smugglers, who charge a high price to families hoping to coordinate the release of their loved ones.

Read the profiles and see the images at The Daily Beast.

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