Over the past three years, I have heard a lot of stories about other Yazidi women who were captured and enslaved by ISIS. For the most part, we were all victims of the same violence. We would be bought at the market, or given as a gift to a new recruit or a high-ranking commander, and then taken back to his home, where we would be raped and humiliated, most of us beaten as well. Then we would be sold or given as a gift again, and again raped and beaten, then sold or given to another militant, and raped and beaten by him, and sold or given, and raped and beaten, and it went this way for as long as we were desirable enough and not yet dead. If we tried to escape, we would be punished severely. As Hajji Salman had warned me, ISIS hung our photos at checkpoints, and residents in Mosul were instructed to return slaves to the nearest Islamic State centre. They were told there was a five-thousand-dollar reward if they did.
The rape was the worst part. It stripped us of our humanity and made thinking about the future—returning to Yazidi society, marrying, having children, being happy—impossible. We wished they would kill us instead.
ISIS knew how devastating it was for an unmarried Yazidi girl to convert to Islam and lose her virginity, and they used our worst fears—that our community and religious leaders wouldn’t welcome us back—against us. “Try to escape, it doesn’t matter,” Hajji Salman would tell me. “Even if you make it home, your father or your uncle will kill you. You’re no longer a virgin, and you are Muslim!”
“I want to talk about everything. The murder of my brothers, the disappearance of my mother, the brainwashing of the boys—not just the rape. Or maybe I am still scared of what people will think.”
Women tell stories about how they fought against their attackers, how they tried to beat away the men who were much stronger than them. Although they could never have overpowered the militants who were determined to rape them, their fight allowed them to feel better after the fact. “There’s not one time that we let them do it quietly,” they say. “I would resist, I would hit, I would spit on his face, I would do anything.” I heard of one girl who penetrated herself with a bottle so that she would no longer be a virgin when her militant came for her, and others who tried to set themselves on fire. After they were free, they were able to say proudly that they scratched so hard at their captor’s arm that they drew blood, or they bruised his cheek while he was raping them. “At least I didn’t let him do whatever he wanted,” they would say, and every gesture, no matter how small, was a message to ISIS that they did not truly own them. Of course, it was the voices of the women who were not there, who had killed themselves rather than be raped, that spoke the loudest.
I have never admitted this to anyone, but I did not fight back when Hajji Salman or anyone else came to rape me. I just closed my eyes and wished for it to be over. People tell me all the time, “Oh, you are so brave, you are so strong,” and I hold my tongue, but I want to correct them and tell them that, while other girls punched and bit their attackers, I only cried. “I am not brave like them,” I want to say, but I worry what people would think of me. Sometimes it can feel like all that anyone is interested in when it comes to the genocide is the sexual abuse of Yazidi girls, and they want a story of a fight. I want to talk about everything—the murder of my brothers, the disappearance of my mother, the brainwashing of the boys—not just the rape. Or maybe I am still scared of what people will think. It took a long time before I accepted that just because I didn’t fight back the way some other girls did, it doesn’t mean I approved of what the men were doing.
Before ISIS came, I considered myself a brave and honest person. Whatever problems I had, whatever mistakes I made, I would confess them to my family. I told them, “This is who I am,” and I was ready to accept their reactions. As long as I was with my family, I could face anything. But without my family, captive in Mosul, I felt so lonely that I barely felt human. Something inside me died.
At Hajji Salman’s, I could barely stand to look at myself in the mirror. I put on some pink lipstick and eye makeup—just enough, I hoped, to avoid being beaten.
I looked in a mirror for the first time since leaving Kocho. Before, when I had put on makeup, I always felt that when I finished, I looked like another person, and I had loved that, the possibility of transforming. But that day at Hajji Salman’s, I didn’t feel that I looked any different. No matter how much lipstick I wore, the face in the mirror reflected exactly what I had been turned into—a slave who, at any moment, was going to be a prize for a terrorist. I sat down on the bed and waited for the door to open.
Forty minutes later, I heard the guards outside greet my captor, and then Hajji Salman came into the room. He wasn’t alone, but the men who were with him stayed in the hallway. As soon as I saw him, I collapsed, trying to shrink into a ball so that he couldn’t touch me, like a child.
“Salam alakum,” Hajji Salman said to me, and looked me up and down. He seemed surprised that I had dressed up as he had asked. “I had other sabaya who I had to sell after a few days,” he said. “They didn’t do what I asked them. You did a good job,” he said approvingly, and then he left and closed the door behind him, leaving me feeling exposed and ashamed.
It was early evening when the door opened again. This time Hossam peered into the room. “Hajji Salman wants you to bring tea to the guests,” he said. “How many are there? Who are they?” I didn’t want to leave the room dressed as I was, but Hossam refused to answer. “Just come,” he said. “And hurry, the men are waiting.”
For a moment, I had hope that the rape wasn’t going to happen that night. He’s just going to give me to one of these men, I said to myself, and I walked downstairs to the kitchen.
One of the guards had prepared the tea, pouring the strong reddish-brown liquid into small glass cups and arranging them around a dish of white sugar, and left it on a tray on the stairs. I picked up the tray and brought it into the living room, where a group of militants sat on plush couches. “Salam alakum,” I said as I entered, then walked around the room, placing teacups on small tables set up by the men’s knees. I could hear them laughing and speaking a distinctly Syrian Arabic, but I couldn’t pay attention to what they were saying. My hand shook as I served the tea. I could feel them looking at my bare shoulders and legs. The accent in particular scared me. I was still sure that at some point they would take me out of Iraq.
(Excerpted with permission from The Last Girl by Nadia Murad)