When Christian women in Islam-dominated countries like Iraq and Syria undergo persecution, there is a unique level of suffering. Many of these women are vulnerable to being raped and sex trafficked.
“The underlying theme of these violations is religious persecution,” said Charmaine Hedding, founder of the Shai Fund, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide urgent relief aid—often in countries where Christians suffer at the hands of the Islamic State.
ISIS justifies sexual assault, slavery and forced conversion on the basis that Christian women are “infidels,” Hedding said.
Some Christian women captured by ISIS have been sold many times to different men, some of them given as gifts.
“What’s most shocking when I speak to victims who have found their way out of captivity is when they tell me who their captors are—Americans, Chinese, British, and other Western people,” Hedding said. “They are foreign jihadis who are fighting for the Islamic State, right along with Saudis, Iraqis and other people from the Middle East.”
According to Hedding, an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 foreign fighters have joined ISIS.
There are more than just physical and psychological implications for the victims; there are social ones, too.
“It’s difficult for the communities. There is a lot of shame for a woman who’s been taken and abused,” Hedding said. She explained that in many cases, families are reluctant to take back a woman who has escaped or been rescued from such abusive situations because they believe the woman has destroyed the honor of the family. “These women are often seen as damaged goods, and sometimes their husbands no longer want them,” Hedding said.
Some women have been injured to the point of being rendered barren and are seen as less valuable to society—and to their husbands, if they are married.
“We need to be talking about this and getting involved and supporting these people,” Hedding said. “We might be far away and think it has nothing to do with us. But we need to reach out across the ocean and see how we can help them.”