Held as a Sex Slave by ISIS for Five Years: 'I Never Thought that One Day I Would Be Free'
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ISIS hasn't been front-and-center in the news recently, but it's still a threat in many places around the world.
In Iraq, thousands of women and girls who were kidnapped when the terror group took control in 2014 have yet to be returned to their homes.
Now, families are put in the position of buying their daughters back from the brutal jihadist group.
Six years ago, Leila Taalo was kidnapped by ISIS along with her entire family. They are Yazidi, an ancient people who were brutally oppressed by ISIS when the terror group flooded into their area in Northern Iraq in 2014.
After their capture from their home in Sinjar, her family was forcibly converted to Islam. This allowed her family to live as second-class citizens for a while, working for the Islamic State mainly as herders, along with other Yazidis who were moved there.
Taalo showed journalists a room near Sinjar where she was confined with her husband.
But after some Yazidis escaped, the militants gathered all the men and took them away, never to be seen again. Many were killed and dumped into a sinkhole, where their bones can still be seen whitening in the sun.
"We knew that they were going to take us out of this house. We were worried about the mobile phones, that they would find out that we had mobile phones. So my brother's wife and I took the two mobile phones and buried them here. We hid them in the ground, and there were cigarettes too."
Without her husband to protect her, Taalo and her two children were sold as slaves. She and other Yazidi women were traded like livestock and raped repeatedly by every new owner. Twice she became pregnant, but the Saudi man responsible forced her to abort the babies, even though it was forbidden by ISIS.
Dr. Anne Speckhard, Director of the International Study for Violent Extremism, has interviewed dozens of escaped Yazidi women and their families.
"One Yazidi family I spoke to was step-by-step buying their daughters back from ISIS. And it tells you there is something corrupt and horrible going on that ISIS is still able to operate. ISIS treated these women as sub-human, subjected them to rape, and treated them as slaves," Speckhard said.
Finally, after Taalo had been abused by at least seven different men, her family was able to secure her release by paying a ransom of over $19,000. She recently took journalists back to see where her ordeal took place.
"All these houses were full of Yazidi families. They were living here," she said, showing the ruins of a now-deserted community.
"I wish I was back in the past, even if I was in the hands of the Islamic State. At least I was living with my family here, my brothers and my husband were alive. No matter how long (the captivity), five years or more, as long as we are together and not separated. Regardless of the suffering and no matter what happens. But not to lose them," she said.
The systematic abuse of women continues in many places, but only under ISIS was it given theological justification, and many women have yet to be freed. According to Kurdish authorities, at least 2,900 Yazidis have yet to be returned to their families, including more than 1,300 women and girls.
"When I was here, I never thought that one day I would be free. Now I am here and I am free, thank God. But I will never forget the suffering they caused us," Taalo said.
But for Leila Taalo and those still waiting, closure won't come until every Yazidi girl comes home.
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