Espace presse

Terrorism and sexual exploitation

conversion et radicalisationFrom 2010, RJ DiGiacomo[1] showed how prostitution run by organized crime could become a source of profits for terrorist groups. Since June 2014 and the 'proclamation of the Caliphate' by the terrorist group ISIS, a logic of profits from sexual exploitation is becoming increasingly clear to the point that the UN now speaks of a deliberate sexual terrorism[2]. Logic reused by other terrorist groups in particular on the African continent (Boko Haram, Shabaab, AQIM). Women are the first victims. Sexual exploitation not only takes the face of profit: alongside prostitution and its traffic, testimonies of rape and forced marriages are increasing ...


In Iraq, prostitution networks did not wait ISIS to thrive. In a favorable context of extreme fragility of a disputed power and exacerbated violence where years of conflict have made almost 1.6 million widows[3] , women and girl victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation is already counted in tens of thousands before 2014. Some estimates go as far forward the figure of 50,000 Iraqi women forced into prostitution in Syria alone[4]. ISIS was only reactivating networks. These networks were only changing "partner / interlocutor". Nevertheless, this business took both an unexpected scale and new faces which overtake the usual frame of the analysis by joining an implemented specific politico-religious plan by a terrorist organization in a war zone.

With all the precautions that require data collection and verification of the information we have, we can clearly distinguish two main forms of sexual terrorism, each with a high degree of complexity and multiple variants


Seizing women as the spoils of war

The first one ensues directly from military offensives of ISIS and from territorial conquests which have resulted, among others, the capture of several thousand women and minors… It is minorities Yazidis, Christians (Maronites), Alawi, Chabaks and Shiite Turkmens that seem to have been the most affected. Several hundred women were first taken in the main cities as Raqqa (Syria) or Mossul (Iraq) and then spread on the IS territory to be "offered", or "sold" to the fighters[5]. Spreading of both 'functional' (to benefit its fighters that booty priority to those who have shown the fighting spirit) and strategic (by mixing these victims in the civilian population of the conquered cities, minimizes the risk of ISIS undergo bombing of the International Coalition).

Some women have been 'suggested' to local youth to motivate them to join the organization. An unknown number of these women would have been sold on the open market at prices varying according to their age. Several cases of minors were indicated among these victims. According to Reuters, a night with a virgin would cost $ 200 to $ 500.

Several testimonies recorded with NGO’s speak of forced marriages (some with girl as young as 9 years old), which can be temporary, of rapes, wich can be collective. We do not know the exact extent of these phenomena[6]. Arranged marriages are also part of ISIS strategy. they allow the organization to establish alliances between clans, or integrate to their cause local people still hesitant. The organization invalid marriages made outside its precepts if one of its fighters wants to marry a woman who is already married (particularly true with minorities or women of the Shiite community).

Brothels which would be kept by Muslims women with European passports, are also mentioned in certain cities where women would be "put at the disposal" of the djihadists. A climate of terror, widely mediatized by the organization, including on these subjects, results in the submission of local populations.

Although 200 women from the Yezidi community were released in mid-April, it is as if a deliberate sexual exploitation business was being set up for at least two clear reasons: to make money and attract new members. An almost identical pattern recurs with Boko Haram in West Africa that would have removed over 2,000 Nigerian young women. According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, it is likely that forced marriages (with the fighters), sexual abuse, forced prostitution exist without, again, we know the exact extent. Human Rights Watch also reported rape of minor muslim women captured by anti-Balaka fighters in Central African Republic[7] .


Of the Islamic State towards the networks of the organized crime :

Links with prostitution networks are important. Iraqi women are sold via existing channels to Jordan and especially Turkey, which plays a major role in transit of the victims of both the IS outward but also as a point of obligatory passage of external recruitment to the IS. Lebanon, Iran, Yemen and the Gulf countries (oil monarchies among others) remain the other recipient countries have long identified trafficking. They are not changed since the recent developments. Also according to Reuters, prices go up to $ 20,000 when these women are sold via these channels.

Syrian refugees are also widely exploited by the more or less organized and more or less opportunistic networks. In March, several members of a Turkish network were convicted of sex trafficking of minors Syrian girls[8] . For certain large families which want to cross the Turkish border, one or several girls can serve as currency.


An international and well organized sex trafficking

The organization benefits from a feminine recruitment which takes of the international scale and which allows him to feed its ideology, its finances, to motivate his fighters or to attract additional ones.

ISIS and the prostitution networks are indeed very close on the phenomena of recruitment abroad by exploiting the desire of young women to join the Islamic state. We find strong similarities with the techniques of deceit and false promises used by the trafficking in human beings networks. This recruitment, more or less voluntary, bases itself in particular on the moral incentives and the financial and material incitements according to the geographical origin of the "victim".

A recruitment, an attraction which put also on the emotional springs by giving the impression to the young women to come serve/to defend a cause which seems just to them. It is a matter of "vocations". The promise of a "better future”, with marriage in a rigorous but universal and wholesome Islamic state, motivate long-time convinced as the neo-converts who would represent 40 % of the attracted people of (both sexes) [9]

Several thousand young women of the Maghreb, the Middle East or the West have already joined the Islamic state , and this phenomenon, does not seem to slow down in spite of the ways set up by states to watch the exits of territory.

In Morocco and in Tunisia for example, security forces noticed a rise in intensity of the activities of the prostitution networks. At the end of 2014, a joint action of the Spanish and Moroccan security forces allowed to dismantle a specialized cell in the recruitment and women's sending towards Daech[10], based in Barcelona with antennas to Ceuta, Melilla and Fnideq.

For Mohamed Benhammou, president of the Moroccan Center of strategic studies (CMES), " the prostitution networks exploited the desire of the North African girls to immigrate in Europe and attracted them towards Turkey, where numerous girls so deceived found themselves hostages of these networks ".


Pays d’origine

Nombre de femmes ayant rejoint l’EI

Date de l’information



mars 2015 (source policière)



mars 2015 (source policière)

Royaume Uni


mars 2015 (source policière)


10 à 15

mars 2015



mars 2015 (source policière)


300 à 500

février 2015


We are in front of an organized, internationalized system, which uses in its advantage the usual techniques of recruitment of the trafficking victims by adapting them to ISIS ideology.

To our knowledge, and if the information is exact, the first case of a French girl to have made the route inverse and asked to leave the IS was mentioned by an Israeli news website. Having been "exfiltrated" by Syria, probably by the ASL, she would have crossed the Turkish border with her little boy, helped by Kurdish fighters[11].


The importance of the communication strategy and social networks

Internet is the main support of this recruitment in particular via a skillfull and intense communication of ISIS and his supporters on the social networks (Facebook, tweet, instagram, youtube, A " media Jihad " which would represent 90 % of the recruitments[12]. Conversions, marriages are sometimes made via Skype. Young specialized women work for the terrorist group in this feminine recruitment by attracting "preys" on the Internet and by facilitating their coming in particular with a relatively well ground speech praising a kind of "5 stars jihad" with marriage, accommodation and activites promised.

In the observation of some twitter accounts of "recruiters", we see clearly the gap between the positive image sent to the "potential victims" and the local rhetoric on the reality of the roles which are reserved for the women when they arrived [13]. The organization attacks directly the image and the women condition in an “alienating” west which makes them victims (racism, stigmatization, culture of the rape, the naked bodies and the pornography). ISIS promises them a central role in the Caliphate where they will be considered as “founding mothers”. Role which naturally passes necessarily by the marriage, only way to aspire to the purity, possible marriage with 9 years old girl according to the current Islamic law within the checked territories …

The French call center on the radicalization indicated that last March, the number of potential women candidates to join the Islamic state was higher than the number of men. On the internet, published manuals still downloadable on protected sites explain to young women how to get by themselves within the Islamic State via Turkey: take a return ticket and have a Western dress code to not attract attention, how and where to cross borders etc... Intermediaries networks do the rest. The routes of trafficking have not changed a lot. What has changed is the traffic direction. From country of origin of human trafficking victim, Iraq has also become a country of destination.

For the western women who are tempted by the departure, to join ISIS, it is " to become emancipated of the culture of the western corruption " and to allow them to turn in " their real role ": that is to support the global project while staying " behind a closed door ", at the house, in the service of her "warrior". The release authorizations only concern doctors, teachers, women who study the religion or fighters (as a last resort).

It’s hard to determine a standard profile for these young women. We are in front of a set of factors such as « the social substrate, the report to the religious, psychological vulnerability, sensitivity to international context, place of living, and the senzitivity to a communication strategy[14] ». ISIS seems to 'fill a void', to ‘offer an opportunity' that these young women feel they have not in the West.

Even if the social networks are monitored, the magnitude of the phenomenon is such as it seems today difficult to stop it with the current ways. Internet is full of learning tools for example to circumvent any form of account closure on twitter. Today, more than 90 000 social networks accounts support the Islamic State according to the Quillian Foundation. And that continues to increase.

It can also be difficult to determine the origin of the accounts of the recruiting. An article by Channel 4 of 28 April 2015, showed that the tweets of one of the most influential recruiting women (_UmmWaqqas with 8000 subscribers - account suspended) were most likely localized in Seattle ...

[1] « prostitution as a possible funding mechanism for terrorism » - Richard J . DiGiacomo – Naval Postgraduate School – Monterrey - 2010

[2] ONU : Daech invente le ‘terrorisme sexuel’ - Larbi Amine – 04/14/15 –

[3] « No place to turn : violence against women in the Iraq conflict » - M.Patrick – Ceasfire – MRGI – february 2015

[4] « the slaughter of dozens of alleged Iraqi prostitutes and the dark world they inhabited » - Terence McCoy – 07/15/14

[5] « Report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict – Iraq july – september 2014» - UNAMI

[6] « Irak : des Yézidis détenus par l’Etat islamique forcés de se marier et de se convertir à l’islam

[7] « Central African Republic : Muslims held captive, raped » - HRW – 22/4/15

[8] « Turkish ISIL agent charged with running underage Syrian prostitution ring » - - 3/3/15

[9] Rapport n°388 de la commission d’enquête sur l’organisation et les moyens de la lutte contre les réseaux djihadistes en France et en Europe – French Senate – 4/1/15

[10] « l’EI utilise les réseaux de prostitution » - Magharebia (Washington DC) 2/7/15

[11] « Report : french woman Recruit escapes ISIS in Syria » - – 4/27/15

[12] Rapport n°388 de la commission d’enquête sur l’organisation et les moyens de la lutte contre les réseaux djihadistes en France et en Europe – French Senate – 4/1/15

[13] « Women of the Islamic State, a manifesto on women by the Al-Khansaa Brigade », Translated and analyzed by Charlie Winter –Quillian Foundation, february 2015

[14] Rapport n°388 de la commission d’enquête sur l’organisation et les moyens de la lutte contre les réseaux djihadistes en France et en Europe – Sénat – 1/4/15

The Scelles Foundation in the press

  • (ES - Milenio) El ser humano no está a la venta
    El periodismo necesita inversión. Comparte este artículo utilizando los íconos que aparecen en la página. La reproducción de este contenido sin autorización previa está prohibida.
    El periodismo necesita inversión. Comparte este artículo utilizando los íconos que aparecen en la página. La reproducción de este contenido sin autorización previa está prohibida.