A slender young woman stood before the attendees of the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom and recounted her harrowing story of capture and sexual slavery by ISIS leaders. I was sitting in the audience, among like-minded NGOs and government officials who were gathered in our nation’s capital to dialogue about how to more efficiently strengthen global religious freedom. Sprinkled throughout the keynote addresses and breakout sessions, survivors of religious persecution bravely shared their stories. But Nadia Murad’s story stood out to me the most.
All of the stories were equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring, but I closely related to Nadia’s story, because I saw my younger sisters in her. I come from a family of eight, and as the eldest female, I took on the role of protector and defender of my siblings. Nadia, an image-bearer of God, suffered brutal and horrific acts of violence and abuse, yet she’s using her voice in powerful ways to advocate for her sisters who are still enslaved.
Nadia’s harrowing story
Nadia is a member of the Yazidi community and was born in northern Iraq, where she happily spent her days with her family and tight-knit community. Yazidism is a small monotheistic religion, with approximately one million adherents throughout the world. When ISIS attacked Nadia’s village, they separated the women and girls from the men. Most of the men were murdered, while the women were held hostage as sex slaves who were traded among ISIS leaders. A high-ranking ISIS official purchased Nadia, and she was subjected to repeated sexual abuse and rape.
As Christians, we must care deeply about persecution and sexual violence. Both are antithetical to how God designed humans to flourish.
In her autobiography, Nadia tells of her first attempted escape and how, when her captor found out, he allowed her to be gang raped by his subordinates. Then, he promptly sold her to another ISIS leader. Eventually, she was able to escape with the help of local villagers. The world she returned to was ravaged and war-torn; many family members were dead. ISIS had tried to snuff out her culture and heritage.
Nadia’s body had been beaten and abused, but her spirit wasn’t ultimately broken. Instead, she uses her story to bring awareness to the issue of sexual violence and abuse during war. She’s spoken at the United Nations and around the world, calling on the global community to account for the atrocities committed. In 2018, she was awarded a Noble Peace Prize for her bravery and courage and for elevating how “sexual violence is used as a weapon of war and armed conflict, and constutites both a war crime and a threat to peace and secutity.” During her Nobel Lecture, she highlighted the plight that millions face around the world,
“Every day I hear tragic stories. Hundreds of thousands and even millions of children and women around the world are suffering from persecution and violence. Every day I hear the screams of children in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Every day we see hundreds of women and children in Africa and other countries becoming murder projects fuel for wars, without anyone moving in to help them or hold to account those who commit these crimes.”
Fighting against sexual violence
Sexual violence is dehumanizing in every way possible. God created sex to be a unifying and pleasurable act, enjoyed between a husband and a wife. Yet, sex is often used as a way to wield power over the vulnerable. By nature, women are typically more physically vulnerable than men, and nefarious men will often use sexual abuse, rape, or other forms of sexual misbehavior to control women and exert power.
As Christians, we must care deeply about persecution and sexual violence. Both are antithetical to how God designed humans to flourish. Christians should educate themselves and then speak clearly and boldly about the abuses that are happening to women and girls around the world. We should advocate for the vulnerable, abused, and voiceless in every nation. Few of us will ever endure what Nadia did, but we ought to use our freedom and our voices to highlight for protection of persecuted people abroad.