The Islamic State has only one real rule that keeps captured female prisoners from being raped, and it’s based on an obscure ruling in Islamic Law that says “a man must ensure that the woman he enslaves is free of child before having intercourse with her.”

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The New York Times interviewed three dozen Yazidi women who escaped capture about what they were subjected to during their imprisonment. The effect of the law is that ISIS soldiers force birth control on the women in various ways. One teenage girl, who was sold seven times, says she didn’t know for months that the pill she was made to swallow each day was a contraceptive:

Soon after buying her, the fighter brought the teenage girl a round box containing four strips of pills, one of them colored red.

“Every day, I had to swallow one in front of him. He gave me one box per month. When I ran out, he replaced it. When I was sold from one man to another, the box of pills came with me...”

...When prospective buyers came to inquire about her, she overheard them asking for assurances that she was not pregnant, and her owner provided the box of birth control as proof.

That was not enough for the third man who bought her, she said. He quizzed her on the date of her last menstrual cycle and, unnerved by what he perceived as a delay, gave her a version of the so-called morning-after pill, causing her to start bleeding.

Sunni scholars who initially ruled on the issue suggested a period of abstinence of one menstrual cycle to ensure a woman is not impregnated, but most fighters circumvent the waiting period with modern medicine. While not all of them are observing the rules, either through inconsistency of application or plain defiance, the use of birth control would explain the low pregnancy rate coming from Yazidi escapees:

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Of the more than 700 rape victims from the Yazidi ethnic group who have sought treatment so far at a United Nations-backed clinic in northern Iraq, just 5 percent became pregnant during their enslavement, according to Dr. Nagham Nawzat, the gynecologist carrying out the examinations.

It is a stunningly low figure given that the normal fertility rate for a young woman is between 20 percent and 25 percent in any given month, four to five times the rate that has been recorded so far, said Dr. Nezar Ismet Taib, who heads the Ministry of Health Directorate in Dohuk, which oversees the clinic where the victims are being treated.

“We were expecting something much higher,” he said

The majority of the women interviewed were relieved that they would not be carrying their abuser’s children, but in at least one case, a pregnancy provided an opportunity for escape. A woman’s captor pressured her to ask for an abortion, but was too ashamed to demand it from the doctor himself. When he left her alone, she jumped the fence and made her way to her family. She gave birth to a baby boy two months after crossing out of Islamic State territory.

Image via AP.


Contact the author at aimee.lutkin@jezebel.com.