There has been some skepticism among analysts of Iraq and Syria about whether the Islamic State has, as many have claimed, seized hundreds of women and girls, especially members of religious minorities, and is trading them and using them as concubines. Observers were skeptical for no good reason other than that we didn’t have hard evidence of its going on, and lots of incredible claims get made about atrocities. But below is the best evidence yet that this is definitely happening: A number of men who appear to be Islamic State fighters discussing the activity themselves. (The translation from Arabic is by Al Aan TV’s Jenan Moussa.)
Why was it so hard to prove this, when we know a significant amount about deaths in the Syrian conflict, about who controls what parts of Iraq, and more? Because the group doesn’t want us to know. Sex trafficking serves two practical purposes for the Islamic State: It compensates their fighters and earns revenue, and it terrifies area civilians into submission. Neither of those purposes requires letting the West know they’re doing it, and indeed, knowledge of it is likely to mobilize Western opposition to the group. (Beheading journalists, on the other hand, is much more effective at the intended purposes — again, profits and terror — if the West knows about it.) The same goes for the huge massacres they have perpetrated a few times, in very rural areas — the jihadists need to terrorize populations into submission, but they don’t want their barbarism so widely known that it prompts more Western effort against them.
The Islamic State, unfortunately, seems to have pretty tight control over what kind of information about their conduct gets in and out. Journalists are allowed to report from Islamic State territory (as, for instance, Vice has) but their work is subject to approval and censorship by the group. If the U.S. government and the Western coalition wanted, it seems, they could be doing more to make sure this information gets out there. Instead, they seem to be leaving it to Arabic cable-news reporters. One could argue that this prevents the information from being cast as U.S. propaganda, but do we really think ISIS isn’t going to claim that anyway?