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News / Thoughts

Helping women enslaved by IS

August 24, 2015

Recent articles in the New York Times, The Guardian and on the BBC have highlighted how Islamic State has been horrifically treating women and girls that they have captured. But the violent and abusive treatment of women by Islamic extremists is not limited to Iraq, nor is it just Yazidi women and girls who are targeted. In Nigeria, Boko Haram militants forcibly marry their captives. In Central African Republic Christian women have been raped and assaulted. In Pakistan, hundreds of Christian women are abducted and forcibly married every year.

Open Doors supports and helps many of these victims, and also provides much-needed training for those who seek to provide trauma care and healing.

They don’t see human beings…

The stories are graphic and horrific. We don’t need to spell out what goes on, but it’s enough to say that girls as young as 11 are taken, sold, abused and used.

It’s clear that even for those women who escape or are released, the captivity continues. Rape is a tool used to humiliate and shame not only the women, but their communities. It is intended to demonstrate that these minorities are unable to protect their women and children.

The result is that many of these innocent victims are afraid that they will not be accepted back into society.

“The IS fighters look them in the eyes, but don’t see a human being. They have no mercy.”

The deep end…

Barika, a woman working with women who have escaped or been released by IS, was almost captured herself. Living in Sinjar, Barika escaped just half an hour before IS entered. Now she has dedicated her life to working with these women and children. “I want to use all that I have to help my people,” she explains.

But nothing in her previous life had prepared Barika for this work. And the stories she heard almost broke her.

She has found help through Open Doors-supported trauma care training for Yazidi and Christian volunteers. Barika attended one of our three-day Trauma Care Training workshops. On the evening of the first day of training, Barika collapsed with stress and exhaustion.

“The kidnappings, the rapes, the escapes…,” she said. “While I wanted nothing more than to help the girls, I noticed that the stories were destroying me on the inside.”

During subsequent days of training, Barika learned the best way to take care of the girls and how to help them deal with the fear and the trauma, without being destroyed herself.

“This training was so beneficial for my work with the girls,” she said. “I dived in at the deep end, caring for these women and girls. I never learned how I could best take care of them until I went to the training.”

Around the world…

IS militants are not unique in their use of violence and rape. In Nigeria, women captured by Boko Haram are forcibly married. Open Doors is working with women rescued from Boko Haram camps. Many of them, having seen their husbands killed, were forcibly married to Boko Haram militants.

Amidst the violence that has engulfed the Central African Republic, Christians have faced brutal victimisation through murder, rape and torture. When Open Doors team members set up a trauma healing session, they were astonished at the demand. “We had planned to spend time debriefing 30 victims,” shared one team member, “but on the first day, 130 women showed up.”

Open Doors trauma counsellor Martha* adds, “We simply knew we could not turn these women away, so we divided them into two groups and began ministering as best we could with the resources we had.”

The next day, double the number of women were there.

Through the sessions, the women were encouraged to pour their hearts out to God and to understand how Jesus sees them.

“Arriving the next morning, I found the women singing with joy,” shared Martha. “The training helped them realise that they were not alone — there were others who shared their experience. They no longer felt isolated. In sharing their stories and pouring out their hearts to God, they felt great relief.”

From victims to survivors…

Of course, for all of these women, there is a long journey ahead. But there is hope here, even in these circumstances. These women – Yazidi or Christian – are not alone.

“As they share their stories of being victimised, they very slowly become survivors and start the process of seeing how God can give them beauty for ashes and turn their mourning into dancing,” explained one of our trauma care training team.

“However, healing from such brutal attacks includes a lifetime of healing and requires support that is often not easily available to such Christians. We are glad, though, that God has placed us in countries such as Iraq for such a time as this, to see the healing process begin and see His hand in restoration.”

* All names changed for security reasons

Source: Open Doors

Please pray

  • For those women and girls currently being held captive, that they may be freed
  • For those who have suffered so badly, that they will know God’s restoration and healing
  • For Open Doors trainers as they support both victims and care-givers

We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.