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Sex Slave Legacy

The Children of Islamic State

Islamic State fighters are known to keep sex slaves. Although they usually force the women to use contraception, many still become pregnant with their rapists' babies. The women who manage to escape are left with deep emotional scars.

Maria Feck/ DER SPIEGEL
By and (Photos)
Thursday, 4/14/2016   11:42 AM

At night, when Khaula lies in bed and finally falls asleep, she often dreams of her child. Each time, the same images appear before her: She sees her hands clasped together in front of her chest, forming a hollow. When she lifts her upper hand, a bird is sitting beneath it. She sees its body and its feathers, but the bird doesn't look at her, and there is no song to be heard from its throat. Its tiny head is missing.

"Every time I have this dream, I can't move for a time," says Khaula. After eight months as an Islamic State (IS) captive, she gave birth to a baby girl. The child's father had been her tormentor, an Iraqi IS fighter from Mosul. He had plenty of daughters already and had wanted Khaula, a Yazidi woman kidnapped by IS, to give him a son.

That was 12 months ago. Khaula is now living in Germany, without her child. She's sitting in the side room of a café in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, where she has come to share her story. She's a quiet woman of 23 with black curls and enjoys wearing Kurdish garments.

Khaula shares a dormitory with other women who have been freed. The location must be kept secret, and the name "Khaula" is an alias. With IS sympathizers in Germany as well, the women are endangered here too.

Coming To Terms with Deep Trauma

The state of Baden-Württemberg has taken in around 1,000 women and children from Iraq to help them come to terms with that happened to them. Psychologist and trauma specialist Jan Ilhan Kizilhan, of the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University in Villingen-Schwenningen, selected those most in need of help in Iraq, where he has traveled a dozen times. In the past, he has worked with rape victims in Rwanda and Bosnia.

"Only the most seriously traumatized women were allowed to come to Germany," Kizilhan says. They include women like a Yazidi whose child was locked in a metal box by an IS fighter and set in the direct sun in front of her until it died. Another woman's infant was beaten to death by an IS man who broke its spine.

In August 2014, Islamic State invaded northern Iraq's Sinjar region, murdering and kidnapping thousands of women and girls who then became sex slaves for its fighters. Hundreds of women who managed to escape their tormenters returned pregnant. The children of IS fighters can be found today in Syria, in Iraq, in Germany -- and possibly even in Turkey, Lebanon and other countries where refugees have sought safe haven. The number is believed to be in the hundreds. In the Kurdish-controlled region of Iraq alone, doctors estimate that figure to be somewhere between 40 and 100 infants. Given the sheer number of women who have been kidnapped in the region, that figure appears to be low.

Rape as a Weapon of War

The use of rape as a weapon of war is a concept as old as war itself, but the organization of the crime under IS has been particularly perfidious. Islamic State forces many of the Yazidi women it kidnaps to use contraception in order to ensure that trade in the woman -- who are often sold as many as five, six or seven times to different fighters -- isn't disrupted by pregnancies.

Freed women as well as doctors and psychologists interviewed by SPIEGEL confirmed that Yazidi women who are taken captive have been provided with contraceptives. Some took the pills, but others secretly spit them out. One woman even reported getting anally raped by fighters in order to prevent a possible pregnancy.

Most of the children of Daesh, as Islamic State is called in Arabic, are no older than one-and-a-half. They are proof of the humiliation which took place, and they represent the further undermining of the foundations of Kurdish society.

Finding Islamic State's children isn't easy, not least because their very survival is a taboo. They also raise a number of questions about the issue of sex slavery in the region. How, for example, are northern Iraqis dealing with these children. What issues do the mothers of these children face when they escape or are liberated? And what does IS do when it finds out a slave is pregnant?

The search for the answers to these questions leads not only to Baden-Württemberg, but also to a doctor in Iraqi Kurdistan. It leads to a judge specializing in adoption law in Dohuk and to the edge of this city, where baby Nura can be found lying in a cradle.

The resulting story is not one of good or bad, black or white. It is the story of a defeated society that, while deeply shaken, is also trying to maintain its dignity. It's a story of coping and also one of astounding, even surprising resilience.

It's a bright, warm day in Baden-Württemberg. Inside the café, Khaula orders an apple spritzer and a schnitzel with beans that she won't eat. She wears heels and a black dress -- she's a refined and petit woman. It takes several hours for Khaula to share her story. She doesn't cry as she tells it; it sounds almost as though she's relating another person's fate. "I am telling it so that my captured family back in Iraq won't be forgotten," she says.

The Slave Market

On August 3, 2014, IS attacked Khaula's village and within a month, 5,000 people from the region had disappeared. Khaula was forced into a bus and taken to a jail full of hundreds of other women and girls. They were then forced to drink water that IS henchmen had spat into right in front of them. As they drank, preparations were made for their sale. Khaula fell into the hands of a tall, 45-year-old IS man wearing a white robe who called himself Abu Omar. He purchased her for 1.5 million Iraqi dinars, or around €1,500, and told her: "You belong to me." He then locked her inside a house in Mosul, Islamic State's stronghold in Iraq.

It's there that he brutally deflowered her, pressing her into the ground, dragging her by the hair into bed, choking her, cursing her and forcing her to listen to the screams of other women who were being tortured in the same house. After four months, he took Khaula along to the home of his wife, who was pregnant. She was ordered to immediately start helping the wife with the household chores, the washing and the cooking. In a fit of jealousy, the woman struck her with a chair. Khaula then tried to hang herself from a fan.

'I Want You To Give Me a Son'

The man had five daughters together with his first wife. He told Khaula: "I want you to bear me a son." During the several hours she takes to tell her story, Khaula will say at one point of her child: "Its life is meaningless to me." But also: "The child was very beautiful." Officially, IS does not want sex slaves like Khaula to get pregnant.

Islamic State published a pamphlet about how to treat female slaves called "Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves," which began circulating on the Internet after the attack on Sinjar in 2014. It states that sex with slaves is permitted. The only mention of pregnancies in the pamphlet relates to the women's market value.

It poses the question: "If a female prisoner is impregnated by her owner, can he then sell her?"

The answer: "He cannot sell her if she has become the mother of a child."

In other words, her value falls to zero the moment she gets pregnant. But her status improves: As a mother, she falls into a position somewhere between slave and free woman. She no longer fits into the concept of the slave trade or virgin bazaar IS perpetuates in order to recruit new fighters. There are rules in place from the times of the Prophet Mohammed which are also hinted at in the pamphlet: When a man purchases a sex slave, he has to abstain for a certain amount of time before having sex with her -- a menstrual cycle or two. Such abstinence is known in Islamic law as "Istibra" and is meant to ensure that the slave's stomach is "empty," so that no child sired by another man is foisted on the new owner.

When Khaula realized that she had become pregnant, she went to the fighter's living room, picked up a television and carried it up and down the stairs for hours. Other women stacked stones on top of themselves or jumped from high buildings in order to force a miscarriage. "I tried everything, but I didn't lose the child," says Khaula.

The fighter's wife soon became envious, a fortuitous turn for Khaula. "I don't want to see your belly any longer," she said one morning. She brought Khaula a telephone, which Khaula then used to dial her brother's number in Dohuk. The brother gave her the address of an acquaintance Khaula should go to. She left the house wearing a burqa and accepted the money offered by the wife for her escape. In the taxi, instead of using the word "shukran," or thanks in Arabic, she used the Daesh term "Jazaak Allaahu Khayran" -- out of fear.

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