The heinous sexual violence Islamic State is inflicting on entire families is a form of warfare with long-lasting effects and a “crime against humanity,” former CIA analysts Aki Peritz and Tara Maller argue in Foreign Policy magazine Tuesday, but for some reason the subject’s barely been broached by the West. Peritz and Maller explain why rape and other types of sexual assault, which should be labeled as terrorist acts, are often overlooked or underreported and highlight the reasons why this is a foreign policy failing when it comes to dealing with IS insurgents.

Foreign Policy:

IS claims to be a religious organization, dedicated to re-establishing the caliphate and enforcing codes of modesty and behavior from the time of Muhammad and his followers. But this is rape, not religious conservatism. IS may dress up its sexual violence in religious justifications, saying its victims violated Islamic law, or were infidels, but their leaders are not fools. This is just another form of warfare…[And yet it] seems this society-destroying mass sexual violence is merely part of the [West’s] laundry list for decrying IS behavior. Compare this to IS’s recent spate of execution videos, and the industrial scale of the group’s sexual assaults seems to fade into the background. Rarely do they seem to be the focal point of politicians’ remarks, intelligence assessments, or justification for counterterrorism actions against the group….

Sexual violence by terrorist organizations shouldn’t be seen as a “women’s issue” just because most victims are women….The Islamic State’s campaign of sexual violence will have long-lasting, devastating impacts on the survivors and on Iraqi and Syrian society as a whole. Women must be politically and economically vested to ensure the stability of the country, and as long as many are being victimized in the most intimate way imaginable on a large scale, the future of Iraq seems dim.

At the very least, the United States and other countries should be publicly highlighting the brutal campaign of sexual violence in order to further discredit this organization among Iraqis and its foreign supporters. IS claims to be a group of holy warriors, crafting a new world order. But the rampant sexual criminality exposes its hypocrisy and extreme brutality. Fighting IS’s jihadist narrative is critical to destroying its long-term viability. Its fighters’ behavior toward women should be underscored at every opportunity. It gives the lie to the group’s claim that they are pure of heart….[In the West,] policymakers can sharpen their rhetoric, focusing speeches more on IS’s brutality. Ultimately, the war of ideas is where IS must be defeated. We must highlight and call out this war crime at every turn, because the only group that benefits from ignoring this issue is the Islamic State.

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—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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