THE BLOG

Helping the Victims of Islamic State's 'Religion of Rape'

28/08/2015 17:35 BST | Updated 27/08/2016 10:59 BST

It's months now, since I came back from Iraq - but the face and heart-breaking story of one particular mother, who had her three year old daughter pulled from her arms by IS, is still with me. We are still in touch and she still hasn't seen her daughter.

Today another girl is on my mind. Cala*, just 11 years old, was captured by IS. She used to have long, black hair, but secretly cut off some of her long locks in the bathroom of the place she was being held, hoping to become less 'popular' with her captors. It didn't work.

Cala is one of over 3,000 Yazidi women and children kidnapped by IS. They are 'objects', to be used and abused as their new owners see fit. The rapists from IS justify their actions by praying before and after they rape the girls, turning their atrocities into a religious act.

Through local churches and partner organisations, Open Doors has been providing thousands of food and provisions parcels to Iraqi families who've fled the worst of the violence ever since the exodus last summer. But it quickly became apparent that food, medicines and blankets weren't the only essentials that were needed. We now support local churches in Iraq to provide training to Christian and some Yazidi women who have experienced the horrors of IS. Twenty five year old Barika* is one of the fortunate ones - she managed to flee. But she refuses to be helpless. Barika has a determination - and, perhaps, a need - to help others who've experienced the extreme brutality. To have something to offer. She is one of over 75 people Open Doors partners have trained in trauma care over the last 18 months.

The girls Barika works with are deeply traumatised. Suicide is an option that many choose. Some scream, others remain silent. Cala chooses the latter. Barika takes time with her. Patiently, she draws her story out. It's not easy, for either of them.

At the start of her training, Barika wore black and her hair was covering part of her face. Local workers said she didn't look happy. She explains why: "The kidnappings, the rapes, the escapes... While I wanted nothing more than to help the girls, I noticed that the stories were destroying me on the inside." On the evening of the first day of training, overwhelmed by what she'd heard, Barika collapsed. She was taken to hospital.

Despite her collapse, Barika refused to take a break and decided to return to the training the next day. She said "This training was so beneficial for my work with the girls." Over the following days, Barika learned how the rapes and fear affect girls like Cala, how to take care of the girls in the best way. The trainers saw Barika change during the training. Her dark clothes were switched for more colourful ones and her face became more open and smiling.

Barika says that her training and work has helped her to feel more positively about herself. She and her co-workers hold their heads a little higher now. They are not useless. They are not spent.

A few months later, she is still positive. Her training has helped her continue working with girls like little Cala and has helped her to take better care of herself. She continues to visit victims and to build relationships with their families to help them to make a start in processing what they've been through. To give them hope.

What will life hold for these women and their daughters? Rape as a weapon of war seems to be increasingly used across continents - Open Doors is also supporting trauma care for rape victims of Boko Haram across Africa. The story of the 276 Chibok girls captured by Boko Haram caught the imagination of the media last year and is still being covered. Quite right too. But surely Barika, Cala and the thousands of others like them in Iraq are just as important? We must be as vigilant about the destruction of their future as we are about the occupation of their villages. Are the numbers of girls and women so large that the awfulness of the story becomes incomprehensible - or is it just too hard to talk about?

*names have been changed to protect identities