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ISIL's Pattern of Sexual Violence: Repertoire, Targeting, and Technique

Thu, August 31, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Hilton Union Square, Franciscan D


ISIL engages in a wide repertoire of violence against civilians, including a range of forms of sexual violence. To document the organization’s pattern of sexual violence, we draw on an approach recently published by one of the authors (Gutiérrez Sanín and Wood 2017), in which “pattern of violence” is defined as the specific configuration of repertoire, targeting, frequency and technique in which an organization regularly engages. We first map the pattern of sexual violence perpetrated by ISIL and then explore the extent to which ideology and rival theories explain it. To map the pattern of sexual violence, we draw on official documents and unofficial statements disseminated by ISIL officials and members on social media, independent media, reports by IGOs and NGOs, and interviews with individuals from ISIL-controlled areas of Iraq and Syria. While these sources do not enable more than a very rough estimate of frequency for only a few elements of the repertoire, our analysis of targeting and technique for each element shows that the organization wields sexual violence as a policy. While ISIL leaders do not order subordinates to commit forms of sexual violence, the group’s official doctrine and internal codes of conduct authorize such violence and regulate the conditions under which it should occur. Our analysis suggests that sexual violence outside those conditions appears to be rare, and when individual members violate the regulations, they are often punished. In the second part of the paper, we explain this particular pattern of sexual violence by analyzing the role of ISIL’s ideology in the behavior of its members. We explore how ISIL’s ideology, based on a selective and strict interpretation of medieval Islamic scripture, shapes the group’s policies through fatwas (religious edicts), Arabic-language propaganda, and codes of conduct. We find that these ideologically driven policies both authorize and constrain the violent practices of individual members.