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Asma’s Escape to Freedom and Healing

I’d like you to meet Asma1, a young Yazidi woman in Iraq. For two years, her life was a nightmare that few of us can even imagine. She was captured into ISIS sexual slavery, kidnapped from her village in northern Iraq and torn away from the only life she’d known.

But her story doesn’t end there.

We met Asma at a refugee camp in Kurdistan. With the generous support of MADRE members like you, MADRE and our Iraqi grassroots partners brought lifesaving care for women and girls into this camp. We opened a support center there, where many Yazidi women and girls who have fled ISIS sexual slavery receive healing counseling and vital care.   

The Yazidi community has been brutally targeted by ISIS, suffering ruthless violence, kidnapping and mass execution. In 2014, Asma was kidnapped by ISIS fighters after they took over her village. That day began the absolute horror that is living in ISIS captivity. For the next two years, Asma was shuttled between Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq, traded back and forth between ISIS fighters five times in an unrelenting nightmare of sexual slavery.

As the months wore on, Asma felt more and more helpless. She was certain she’d be trapped in their terrifying grip forever. But she realized: “If I stay, I know I will die. To live, I must escape.” For any chance at survival, she knew she had to risk her life to flee.

That’s when she began to devise her plan.

Her captor started to take Asma to the market to buy food for cooking. A crowded market, she thought, would be her best chance to break free from his control. On her first visit, she scoped out the scene at the market. On her second visit, she figured out an escape plan. On her third visit, she ran for her life. And it worked. She managed to escape.

Terrified and alone, she made her way on foot to a neighboring town. There, she met a kind man who agreed to take her in, pretending she was his daughter. He helped her travel to Kurdistan, where she arrived to the relative safety of the refugee camp where she now lives. Right away, she heard people talking about a place where women and girls would find support and safety, where people would take care of them. A few weeks later, she found her way to our center.

When she first arrived, still shocked and traumatized, our partners told us that Asma could barely speak. She was afraid to look others in the eye. And she was hesitant to trust.

But slowly, Asma started participating in weekly counseling sessions that your support makes possible. Little by little, she started to open up about her captivity. And she told her story to other women who had survived the same atrocity.

In this vital community of support, her healing process is beginning.

When we asked Asma to tell us how our counseling sessions are helping her, she told us, “I have found my voice.” Asma still has a long way to go to recover from her trauma, but slowly—and with your support—she is getting there. Thank you.

 

[1] Her name has been changed to a pseudonym.