• November 24, 2015

The Women Who Escaped Slavery at the Hands of ISIS

In mid-November Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes, managed to expel ISIS fighters from the Iraqi city of Sinjar. The militant group had overrun the town in August 2014—killing and enslaving vast numbers of the Yazidi religious minority in what came to be known as the Sinjar Massacre.

Thousands of Yazidi fled to Mount Sinjar, where they faced desperate conditions while waiting for rescue. In the village, men, children, and older women were killed, while thousands of younger women were kidnapped, raped, and sold into slavery.

Closely following this story was Kurdish photojournalist Seivan Salim, who was born in Iraq but forced to flee as a child. In a refugee camp, months after the massacre, she met some of the women who had escaped from slavery and was so haunted by their stories that she knew she had to do something—anything—to bring injustice to light.

Portrait of a Yazidi woman who was held as a slave by ISIS
Syhan, 30
From: Kojo, Sinjar area

Date of Capture: 08/15/2014
Length of captivity: Ten months

Syhan fell pregnant during her captivity and escaped when she was in her eighth month. She stayed in Turkey for two months until the baby was born. She came back to northern Iraq but wasn’t able to bring the baby with her from Turkey. She doesn’t know where he is.

Photographer’s note: Identifying details of the girls’ accounts have been omitted, their names changed, and identifying physical features and designs (such as tattoos) deleted in order to ensure their safety.

Salim’s photos, as well as intimate stories told by the women, are presented in “Escaped,” a deep and moving project that’s part of “Map of Displacement,” a larger online storytelling project built by the Metrography photo agency and writers from all over the world.

“Each of their stories was tragic. Their suffering was so great,” says Salim. “I felt it was my duty to show it, as a Kurdish woman and a photojournalist who can connect with them in their own language. The world must know what is happening to the girls still in captivity.”

Portrait of a Yazidi woman who was held as a slave by ISIS
Jihan, 20
From: Sinon, Sinjar area
Date of capture: 08/04/2014
Length of captivity: Ten months

“They put me and 14 other girls on a truck, and they took us to Mosul. We were all young and pretty. We didn’t stay in Mosul long; they took us to a small village where we stayed for 15 days. The conditions there were terrible. They put us in a filthy room, and we all got sick. Then we were taken to Raqqa in Syria. They told us that we would be sold, some as slaves, some as brides for the fighters. It was hot, unbearably hot, and there were 150 of us in a house without windows, without air. One afternoon about 20 men entered the house and started beating us. They shouted that we were their slaves, and we should obey them and do whatever we were told to do. They told us that they would punish us but never kill us because they preferred to torture us.”

Before taking the women’s photos, Salim listened to their stories. Many were too traumatized to talk about what had happened to them. Some had been sold multiple times. Some had gotten pregnant by their captors. Most had family members killed.

Portrait of a Yazidi woman who was held as a slave by ISIS
Delvin, 27
From: Kojo, Sinjar area
Date of capture: 08/15/2014
Length of captivity: Four months

“They separated the women from the others and brought us to a school, where we stayed for two months. Then they moved us to several different places. I don’t know exactly where. At last we arrived to Raqqa, in Syria. After 12 days they sent me to a Syrian family.

“I was pregnant and I had other children with me. They were very cruel to us. Even though I was pregnant they would beat me and try to have sex with me. If I didn’t accept to have sex with the men of the family, they would force me anyway. They raped me over and over again. I was sold again, this time to a family from Saudi Arabia. They took one of the boys who was with me to be trained as a jihadi. I never saw him again. I stayed there for a month and a half. I moved again to another city, where my baby was born. I was raped there too, despite the fact that I just had given birth.”

She promised anonymity to those who agreed to be photographed and asked permission to depict them in the traditional white Yazidi wedding dress.

“Traditionally and religiously, the right to have sex is only after marriage. This right was stolen by ISIS,” says Salim. “I wanted to say that they are still chaste and pure in heart.”

Portrait of a Yazidi woman who was held as a slave by ISIS
Muna, 18
From: Kojo, Sinjar area
Date of capture: 08/15/2014
Length of captivity: Four months

“ISIS forced me to go with them when I was in Tal Afar. They said, ‘If you don’t come with us we will behead your two young brothers.’ So I went with a man to Mosul. I worked for his family as a slave. They forced me to convert to Islam. Even though he had a wife and a family, he raped me continuously. ISIS still has five members of my family, and I don’t know where they are or if they’re still alive.”

Even when she came up with the concept, acquiring a white dress to use was a challenge—most people had lost everything while fleeing from ISIS. But she finally tracked down a dress through a family that had been able to return home and salvage some possessions. Because she only had one dress, for each portrait Salim changed the scarf, belt, and style to make it unique to each woman.

Portrait of a Yazidi woman who was held as a slave by ISIS
Dlo, 20
From: Kojo, Sinjar area
Date of captivity: 08/15/2014
Length of captivity: Eight months

“It was 11 in the morning when ISIS came to our village; we were making lunch. They came into our house, grabbed us, and brought us to the school. They separated the men, women, and girls. We didn’t know what was going to happen to the men. We didn’t know that they would kill them all.

“We were taken to Tal Afar along with other girls. ISIS militants would come to the house to select girls for their pleasure and take them away with them.”

“Working on this subject has become my passion, and I’ll work on it as much as I can,” she says.

“Their suffering must never be forgiven and must never be forgotten. I can’t understand why some people must suffer in this century for their style of worship. I hope people know more what ISIS truly is from these testimonies.”

Portrait of a Yazidi woman who was held as a slave by ISIS
Qaliya, 21
From: Talqasab, Sinjar area
Date of Capture: 08/03/2014
Length of captivity: Ten months  

“When I was in Mosul I tried to flee by running to Sinjar mountain. I found a small empty house, where I sat and waited, but they came looking for me and they found me. A man asked, ‘Why did you flee? Are you afraid that we will kill you?’ I replied that I preferred to die. They took me back to my captor’s house, where he pushed me inside a room, closed the door and started to whip me. After that he hit me with a cable and then fastened my legs and hung me by the legs to the fan on the ceiling and then started to hit me again. He took me down and told me that my punishment would continue for three days and I would have nothing to eat nor drink. He also told me that if I ran away again he would tie me to two cars and then split me in two. Three days later he let me out of the room.”

Seivan Salim fled Iraq with her family when she was a baby. She grew up in northern Iran and returned to Iraq in 2012. She worked for local Kurdish media in 2013 and is now a freelance photographer—shooting for the AP and collaborating with the Metrography photo agency.

More of these images and stories can be seen on the photo site Map of Displacement.

To learn more about how to help Yazidi women who have been affected by ISIS, visit www.yazda.org

There are 43 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Diana Rpss
    March 28, 2016

    It breaks my heart. I pray that he monster Obama let the Yazidi women in they are true refugees like turning Jewish women away being tortured by Hitler.

  2. rick
    March 13, 2016

    Why can’t Miekel Of Germany Justin Of Canada And Obama Of US take these Yazidi and Curdis women as refugees.the women and their are raped everyday an sold at will .They see only muslims as victims but they are the real culprits in their land abuse nonmuslim minorities but show a different face here.They watch nonmuslims being attacked but never raise a finger to help them Its the same case everywhere in the world acts of terror against nonmuslims yet all governments take millions of radical jihai muslims while ignoring nonmuslims who are really suffering in the hands of these bullies.Many Syrian &Iraqi christian refugees have reported to the officials that they are positive seeing isis trained militants among them but no one cares including The German Chancellor mikel.Canadian P.M Justin us President obama they continue to bring in thousands go muslim refugees who will be a threat to our society (rape is so common on white women in the E.U nowadays)Among them will Fanatic and jihadii muslim mullas who are going preach hatred towards non-muslims and we will be not safe anymore .Why can’t thee politicians allow more non-muslims as refugees why only muslims the non-muslims were also affected by war intact they were the targets by the same muslims nionmuslims are more reliable ,hard working,patriotic but not these radical muslims Shame Mikel.obama& Justin for using our hard earned Tax money on these traitors and remember this country belongs to us too?

    Read more: http://www.thepoliticalinsider.com/25000-muslim-refugees-will-justin-trudeau/#ixzz42nlEdUaw

    January 20, 2016

    terrible terrible pain my heart breaks for you all!
    itsssss realy un thought able wht goying over there

  4. kkwak007@gmail.com
    January 18, 2016

    Thank you for sharing all about stories.. No reason to forgive.. We have to share with more people ..

  5. Melody
    January 18, 2016

    Sending so much love to these girls who were exposed to such evil. I hope thier hearts find a way back home

  6. Maillebiau Hélène
    January 17, 2016

    These women will continue living in appearance but they re already dead in their minds.poor angels who met devils. I wish them To know kind people, To follow a bit further.

  7. Paulette Harvey
    January 9, 2016

    Mr Stevens with comments like the one you posted, is it any wonder that so little is being done by the free world to end the plight of those unfortunate to be in Daesh’s hands. You are so very wrong to say the world shouldn’t care, I do care and I am embarrassed by the denial that we should or must do something to gain the release of these tormented people

  8. ajay
    December 25, 2015

    Shame for Humanity.,

  9. Paulette Harvey
    December 15, 2015

    This cruel death cult of daesh have no soul, no empathy, no compassion. The real or imaginary grievances they feel they have against the world can not justify their cruel uncivilised behaviour towards these hapless minorities, there is no God that will forgive them. My heart cries for those now free and those still in captivity.

  10. Rachel Alyce
    December 4, 2015

    A terrible terrible pain my heart breaks for you all! Thankyou for telling these women’s stories in a beautiful way!

  11. M Suhail Butt
    December 3, 2015

    These so called ISIS are paid puppits of CIA, they provide them everything….everything to make them work for them. ISIS is backed, supported, trained, equipped by USA. Important fact to be noted that ISIS exist within USA held areas, this is a new File Folder similar to “Al-Qaeda” which stands to support USA interests.

  12. Susan Hayek-Kent
    November 30, 2015

    whoaaaa…..mr stevens, what a cold comment. but please don’t tell me what or whom I should care about. just because it’s been happening doesn’t make it right. I’m having to assume that you must think of these young girls and women as nonentities, just as their rapers think of them.

  13. David Stevens
    November 29, 2015

    We have a own problems in the U.S. these people have been doing this to each other since the dawn of man kind. I really don’t care and neither should you.

  14. radhika
    November 29, 2015

    Look at their beautiful “round” hands and you know some of them are barely 20. Are they getting some help to rebuild their lives now? Can the magazine please tell these women that in the view of the world and God, whoever they choose to believe in, they are still chaste and beautiful. In no faith, is body greater than the soul, and the soul can never be raped or abused. I suppose this is the least we can do to support them from miles away. I do pray with hope that they lead a good healthy life and request the author and magazine to tell them so. I will do my bit to spread awareness about this matter and request other viewers to do the same. Maybe this is how we can become instrumental in delivering them justice.

  15. Maxine
    November 29, 2015

    There is very little that the US government can do, and it is already being done. It is up to Muslim countries to step up to the plate and get rid of these ISIS monsters. It is unfortunate that most of them are not lifting even one finger…The USA is not the police of the world, and its citizens cannot afford to take care of the entire world…Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, Qatar and other very wealthy Muslim countries have to take care of their own business in their own backyard!!!

  16. Ratnakor
    November 29, 2015

    in every war,every society women are tortured……..For men we (women) just a sex toy…….in every society,every war again and again the same story…..shame to you MEN

  17. Ratnakor
    November 29, 2015

    pain, pain………….

  18. Kiwii Tam
    November 28, 2015


  19. Unknown
    November 27, 2015

    Shame on you Obama! Being the head of a superpower nation in this world and not reacting to any of such an evil(ISIS).Please help them out!

  20. nwat
    November 27, 2015

    Does anybody know of an aid group working to help women refugees specifically?

  21. Laila
    November 26, 2015

    How dare they commit such atrocities in the name of God and Islam? How can they rape, torture, and sell to slavery young girls in this peaceful religion’s name? Who would anybody ever respect real Muslims; let alone converting to Islam? Hell is too good for them!

  22. Pranav
    November 26, 2015

    Question is about stopping them through, international pressures, drying up the supplies and blocking the fund flow. Islamic nations have to take a lead and we need to which one does that.

  23. Angela M
    November 25, 2015

    Thank you for sharing their stories and the beautiful photos. Only through efforts like yours will many people see the reality of these people’s situation. Many people are moved to help when they see photos. Your work is that important! If you see these photos and are moved to help do so now! There are many organizations trying to bring relief to those fleeing ISIS. And many that specifically help women in countries where they are systematically abused.

  24. Olga
    November 25, 2015

    They are devils in human form. We pray that one day they will all be brought to justice along with those who support them to pay for all lives they’ve taken, broken, shuttered. And this day will definitely come! We don’t know all of your names, but you are in our hearts, every child, man and woman. Lots of love from Russia, Belarus, Pakistan, UAE.

  25. Anton
    November 25, 2015

    Okay, this level of Inhumane situations done by ISIS is very not good and shouldn’t be allowed to go on , what in the hell have human beings become?, treating each other like savages, too bad. All ISIS fighters should be given a death penalty, No Amnesty s*** .shoot to kill them devils.

  26. Mark
    November 25, 2015

    Barbaric. Horrendous. These beasts have to be stopped! When will “human beings” finally learn? Against so many nazi-like psychopaths around, the only decent response is to neutralize them and bring them to Justice, make them respond for theirs acts and punish them consequently. Even if they don’t care, we all do, and this is the very least we can do for the victims. Be it in Irak, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Lybia, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, OR France, Belgium, Germany, Croatia, and whenever it can be done, even 25 years later, it has to be done!

  27. Viorika Aresteanu Canada
    November 25, 2015

    Heart breaking, but not new. It is offensive that we considered all along this is not our problem. We are enablers by standing by. It is offensive that Western Feminists don’t say or do anything for those girls, being too busy and obsessed with the White Male Supremacy. This is barbaric !

  28. Puru
    November 25, 2015

    My heart burns with shame and indignation. Is this what mankind is all about ?

  29. Rmzgratia!
    November 25, 2015

    I cant hold back ma tears!
    Its so heart-breaking to know what these precious sisters of mine are going through!!
    God may bring justice and peace into their lives..

  30. Anchoram
    November 25, 2015

    Powerful shots of women whom after all they have gone through still remain strong and beautiful. Reading their stories made a lump form in my throat. I adore the wedding dress idea.

    I am so sorry that this is something still happening to anyone regardless of their sex/religion/ethnicity. I pray that a time will come where it will end.

  31. Amir
    November 25, 2015

    I am so sorry to hear these news. I wish ISIS and saudi Arabia government and other their supporter destroy

  32. Josip
    November 25, 2015

    When the exactly same things happened in Croatia 1991 nobody in the world cared or did anything, not even published such an article…

  33. Brigitt
    November 25, 2015

    These women get, traditionally, ill-treated by their own men and now, tortured by strangers. Read recently an account by a Yazidi refugee girl who escaped from her own family, in Germany. And did you hear about some churches open only to women
    refugees and their children in Munich? Reason: prevalent rapes in camps! To make matters worse, the police does not intervene there (why, I don’t know, but have this information from reliables sources)

  34. Bridget
    November 25, 2015

    This women get ill-treated by their own men and now, tortured by strangers. I recently read an account of a “jesidi” girl refugee who fled from her family, assumed a new identity but still lives in fear of getting killed by one of her brothers when discovered. And by the way, do you know that in Munich they opened churches for refugee women so they could escape rape in the camps in Germany! (The police does, for unknown reasons, not intervene there!

  35. Issa
    November 25, 2015

    This is awfully terrible. Those captors don’t have souls.

  36. Krish
    November 25, 2015

    This is horrendous. Not many nations responded when the Sinjar massacre happened. I fail to understand how any human being can behave so disgustingly with fellow humans, irrespective of the color, religion or beliefs. May God give peace to the people who have suffered at the hands of ISIS and other similar groups.

  37. November 24, 2015


  38. Archana
    November 24, 2015

    I read stories of what Hitler did to the Jews and wondered how the world could allow this to happen.

    Then got to know the outside world knew about his hatred for jews but not about the concentration camps.

    We know ! We know and still havent done anything. Obama, please do something.

  39. Esther
    November 24, 2015

    This is insane. I cried for real. It seems impossible to believe such extreme cruelty and inhumanity exists. May Christ be beside them.

  40. Ileana
    November 24, 2015

    Hearbreaking. I am so sorry these ladies had to endure so much pain.

  41. Bianca
    November 24, 2015

    These stories are even difficult to read, I can’t imagine having to experience anything like this.

  42. Susan Hayek-Kent
    November 24, 2015

    their stories hurt.

  43. jmac
    November 24, 2015

    and President Obama calls ISIS the JV team. ISIS is evil. Evil is real.

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