Sex Trafficking and ISIS

Sex trade, sexual politics, and strategy in ISIS fundamentalism

Stephen Henderson talks with Saeed Khan, history lecturer specializing in Near East and Asian studies at Wayne State University, about how ISIS is using sex trafficking as a terror and recruitment strategy.

  • Constantly mutating: Stephen says that he thinks ISIS is different from other terrorist organizations because it is a mutating entity, like a virus. Khan agrees, and says ISIS is constantly adapting to the reaction it elicits from the West. He says ISIS ramps up the egregiousness of its actions to create a “clash of civilizations” binary. 
  • Disempowering strategy: Khan says ISIS is targeting young women and girls from its occupied areas, particularly ethnic and religious minorities, as a disempowering strategy. Because of the sexual mores in these societies, Kahn says ISIS can target groups by destroying women’s honor and chastity. He says that unfortunately, this is a military strategy that has been used throughout history, such as in the Balkan wars in the 1990’s or Indochina in the 1970’s.
  • Targeting disenfranchised men: Khan says that by engaging in sex trafficking, ISIS is targeting economically disenfranchised young men who do not have prospects for marriage and will not engage in premarital sex. He says that this strategy offers them religiously sanctioned sexual spoils.
  • Reckless political rhetoric: Stephen asks if politicians calling for military muscle to defeat ISIS make any sense.  Khan says they do not.  He says their rhetoric is “designed to inflame passions”, a “recklessly misguided bandwagon”, and “Hollywoodesque”.
  • ISIS’s origins: Khan says that much of ISIS’s leadership are ex Iraqi military who were pushed out of their positions during the Second Gulf War.  He says we did not confiscate their weapons, and they had been biding their time for nine years. 

Click the audio link above to hear the full conversation.