I recently wrote about the lack of global outrage over the Islamic State’s enslavement and rape of thousands of Iraqi girls and women.
The column provoked a deluge of email from readers asking what they can do for these young women. So here are some suggestions on how you can help.
There is a pressing need to mobilize more public awareness about this tragedy and to galvanize U.S. politicians to do more for the victims. Meantime, concerned readers can donate to humanitarian aid organizations such as Yazda, which seeks to provide support and counseling for girls who have escaped.
So far, this modern-day slave trade has received startlingly little global media coverage. Most victims come from the Yazidi religious minority, an ancient non-Muslim sect that the Islamic State regards as infidels. The jihadis justify their rape of Yazidis (and sometimes of Christians) with selective quotes from the Quran; they buy and sell the girls on an open market or hand them as chattel to Islamic State fighters.
The girls were seized a year ago when the Islamic State invaded northern Iraq and decimated their communities. The lack of coverage is especially surprising given that one Islamic State victim was a 25-year-old U.S. aid worker, Kayla Mueller, captured in Syria and forced to become the personal sex slave of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before, she was killed, allegedly in a coalition air strike.
Coverage of this tragedy has paled compared with the headlines generated when the jihadi group Boko Haram kidnapped around 300 Nigerian schoolgirls.
The Nigerian girls were never rescued and little is known of their whereabouts. But 10 times as many Yazidis are in captivity and much more is known about their situation.
An international publicity campaign might encourage Arab or Western governments to seek ways to rescue some of the victims.
Toward that goal, concerned readers can also sign the change.org petition calling on President Obama to help the girls (www.yazda.org/change-org-petition). The petition is being promoted by Yazda, an aid organization founded by a group of talented young Yazidi Americans.
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A successful petition campaign might generate more U.S. help for Kurdish forces. And it could promote more U.S. government and private aid for the hundreds of women and girls who have escaped the Islamic State.
“When the women escape, they are still living under very difficult conditions,” says Abid Shamden, one of Yazda’s founders who now works as a senatorial aide in the Nebraska Legislature. Most of the survivors, some as young as 11, are stuck in desolate refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“One of the biggest problems is providing psychological therapy to the escapees.” says Matthew Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and expert on Yazidi culture.
Unusually for the Middle East, with its shame culture that stigmatizes female victims of rape, the Yazidi community and its religious leaders have fully accepted these victims back into the community, Barber told me.
But few counseling resources are available in Iraqi Kurdistan. With volunteers and staff who speak the Yazidi dialect, Yazda is setting up a counseling program, in cooperation with the Christian aid group Samaritan’s Purse. To donate, visit www.yazda.org.
Other groups helping Yazidi women and children in camps include UNICEF (http://supportunicef.org/iraq) and the International Rescue Committee (www.rescue.org).
But few Yazidi rape victims will ever return home. They say they will never again trust their Sunni Arab Muslim neighbors, many of whom collaborated with the Islamic State.
Concerned readers should urge their congressman to introduce legislation giving Yazidi victims of sexual violence visas to resettle here.
The female victims of the Islamic State barbarity deserve a second chance at life.