CHICAGO (CBS) — If you travel far into the scraggly hills of Northern Iraq, you will find the Yazidi people. One year ago, Isis soldiers kidnapped more than 3,000 girls and women from the Yazidi community, some as young as nine years old. They are now being held and sold as sex slaves among ISIS members.
One of the only people on the planet who knows the Yazidi people well is Matthew Barber, a young PhD student from the University of Chicago.
“The Yazidi people were targeted in their homeland of the Sinjar mountain area by the IS jihadist organization, who slaughtered large numbers of men, converted others to Islam and,” he paused before continuing, “kidnapped several thousand Yazidi women.”
He spoke with CBS2’s Kate Sullivan before leaving for Iraq, where he is taking a one year break from his doctoral studies to help save the women and girls who have been kidnapped and sold into sex slavery.
“The men that are preying on these women are doing it in the name of religion. In fact some men are actually praying before and after raping the women,” says Sullivan.
Barber chokes up. “This is a difficult one to answer,” he confesses quietly.
“The focus primarily on women and girls,” he says. “They would take these women to different places in Syria and Iraq, and distribute them among jihadist fighters or sell them to other men. These women have been used as sex slaves, for about a year now and the youngest case we know of, that I know of, is of a nine-year-old girl who is now pregnant because of having been raped.”
Why should people care about Yazidi women?
“They should care about Yazidi women because they are human beings. And no women and girls deserve to be forcibly taken from their homes, witness the slaughter of their male family members and then sold into enslavement, where they are repeatedly raped by different men, sold from one man to another, in an area where they don’t speak the language.”
What can people here do to help Yazidis, who are thousands of miles away?
“One of the ways they can do it is to find organizations that are working there, in the Kurdistan region, that are responding to the needs of refugees and traumatized people,” he replies. “I’m working with one called Yazda. It was created this past year, by Yazidi leaders here in the U.S.”
Why would a University of Chicago doctoral student leave his studies for a year and travel to Iraq to help save Yazidi women and girls?
Says Barber, “If I didn’t do this, if I didn’t play this role and continue to speak, I didn’t know anybody else that would.”
To join in Barber’s efforts, visit Yazda.org.