The advertisement on the Telegram app is as chilling as it is incongruous: A girl for sale is "Virgin. Beautiful. 12 years old … Her price has reached $12,500 and she will be sold soon." The posting in Arabic appeared on an encrypted conversation along with ads for kittens, weapons, and tactical gear. It was shared with the AP by an activist with the minority Yazidi community, whose women and children are being held as sex slaves by the extremists. While ISIS is losing territory in its self-styled caliphate, it is tightening its grip on the estimated 3,000 women and girls held as sex slaves. ISIS sells the women like chattel on smart phone apps, including WhatsApp and Facebook, and shares databases that contain their photographs and the names of their "owners" to prevent their escape through ISIS checkpoints.
The thousands of Yazidi women and children were taken prisoner in August 2014, when ISIS fighters overran their villages in northern Iraq. Since then, Arab and Kurdish smugglers managed to free an average of 134 people a month. But by May, the numbers fell to just 39 in the last six weeks. The smuggling networks are being targeted by ISIS leaders, while Kurdistan's regional government is running out of funds to reimburse impoverished Yazidi families who paid up to $15,000 in fees to smugglers or in ransoms. "This depravity not only speaks to the degree to which [ISIS] cheapens life and repudiates the Islamic faith, it also strengthens our resolve to defeat them," says a State Department rep. Says an 18-year-old who lost an eye in escaping: "Thanks to God, I managed to get away from those infidels. Even if I had lost both eyes, it would have been worth it, because I have survived them."