The Yazidi woman watched as her name was drawn out of a hat. Then a man she had never met told her to go into the bathroom and clean herself.
But she knew better. As a Yazidi woman captured by the Islamic State, she knew that a bath was often prelude to rape.
So she swallowed some poison and hoped to die.
Her story, and those of 19 other women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Islamic State, were collected by Human Rights Watch. In a report released Wednesday, the group accused the Islamic State of war crimes and, potentially, crimes against humanity for their treatment of Yazidi women.
Islamic State “forces have committed organized rape, sexual assault, and other horrific crimes against Yezidi women and girls,” Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Those fortunate enough to have escaped need to be treated for the unimaginable trauma they endured.”
Yazidis are a mostly Kurdish-speaking people who practice a unique, syncretic faith. Globally, the Yazidis, number about 700,000, but the vast majority of the community — about 500,000 to 600,000 — live concentrated in Iraq’s north.
The HRW report is the second to document the suffering of Yazidi women captured by the Islamic State last summer during its sweep through northern Iraq. An Amnesty International study released in December described rampant torture, rape and suicide among the group’s female prisoners.
This latest report, however, includes interviews with women and girls who have managed to escape within the past couple of months. It suggests that despite an international offensive against the Islamists and reports of infighting within their ranks, the Islamic State remains a frightening and formidable force.
When the Islamic State swept through the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar in early August, it killed hundreds of men and captured as many as 1,000 Yazidi women. The women were offered a bleak choice: Convert to Islam and be married, or face imprisonment and potential death.
According to interviews conducted by HRW, both options often led to rape and brutality. So some women chose death. (HRW gave the women interviewed pseudonyms to protect their identities.)
The report described a second woman who tried to kill herself rather than be raped.
“I went into the bathroom, turned on the water, stood on a chair to take the wire connecting the light to electrocute myself but there was no electricity,” she told HRW. “After they realized what I was doing, they beat me with a long piece of wood and with their fists. My eyes were swollen shut and my arms turned blue. They handcuffed me to the sink, and cut my clothes with a knife and washed me. They took me out of the bathroom, brought in [my friend] and raped her in the room in front of me.”
She was later raped, she told HRW, and showed investigators the scars on her wrists from where she tried to kill herself for a second time.
Human Rights Watch says it interviewed medical workers, Kurdish officials, community leaders and activists in order to corroborate accounts from rape survivors. Of the 20 women interviewed, 10 said they had been raped by Islamic State members, some multiple times. Two of the alleged victims were only 12 years old.
One 12-year-old said that she was abducted on Aug. 3 as she and her family were trying to escape from advancing Islamic State forces. The militants separated the men from the women and sent her to a house in Mosul where other Yazidi women were being kept.
“The men would come and select us,” she said. “When they came, they would tell us to stand up and then examine our bodies. They would tell us to show our hair and sometimes they beat the girls if they refused. They wore dishdashas [ankle length garments], and had long beards and hair.”
She said her captor beat her into submission. “I was a young girl, and I asked him, ‘What do you want from me?’” she told HRW. “He spent three days having sex with me.”
He wasn’t the only one. According to the report, she was passed from one Islamic State fighter to the next. Seven in total.
“Sometimes I was sold. Sometimes I was given as a gift,” she said. “The last man was the most abusive; he used to tie my hands and legs.”
According to the report, the woman’s experience is an example of the “systematic rape” of Yazidi women by the Islamic State. A doctor in Dahuk told the group that of the 105 women and girls she had examined, 70 showed signs of being raped by the Islamic State. The reports says that 974 Yazidis had escaped the group as of March 15, including 513 women and 304 children.
“Human Rights Watch documented a system of organized rape and sexual assault, sexual slavery, and forced marriage by ISIS forces,” the report says, referring to another name for the Islamic State. “Such acts are war crimes and may be crimes against humanity.”
Islamic State makes no secret about its enslavement of Yazidi women. In October, the group boasted about the practice in its English-language magazine, Dabiq.
“After capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations,” the magazine said, arguing that, unlike Christians and Jews, Yazidis, as polytheists, could be treated as property. “The enslaved Yazidi families are now sold by the Islamic State soldiers.”
These women escaped and recounted their horror stories to HRW. But many of their fellow Yazidis weren’t so lucky.
They remain enslaved by the Islamic State.