Australian authorities say at least 12 women from Melbourne have left the country, travelling to conflict zones in order to support Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
However, Victoria Police assistant commissioner Tracy Linford said there is information to suggest these women, mostly aged in their late teens and early 20s, may be subjected to sexual enslavement.
“They think that they’ll go over there and life will be really good for them, that they’ll be put on a pedestal,” Linford said.
“We’ve had information come back that some women have actually been pushed into sexual servitude. The living conditions can be very tenuous for a young women over there, they can be on rations and living in squalid and dirty conditions.”
Police said five of the 12 women successfully joined ISIS in Syria, while the remaining seven were either prevented from entering the country or remain unaccounted for.
The women were able to leave Australia under the guise that they were travelling overseas for alternative purposes.
“Some of the families have contacted us, some of the families were taken by surprise when their daughters said they’re travelling for some other purpose and then they subsequently find out that they’ve gone to the conflict zone,” Linford said.
Speaking on AM this morning, senior lecturer in International Relations at Deakin University, Dr Scott Burchill, said women recruited to join ISIS could be handed over to male fighters as a “reward” for service.
“To be able to keep its troops at certain levels is going to keep requiring the recruitment of overseas fighters,” he said. “So I think they’re going to have to try to attract those forces by making it a more attractive proposition, and getting women as possible rewards.”
However, Dr Zachary Abuza, a US-based expert in Southeast Asian politics and security issues said the reason so many women are heading to conflict zones was because the terror group had given women the opportunity to be more than passive participants.
“Women play this very critical role in terms of recruitment and indoctrination through social media and in previous iterations and movements that was not the case,” he said.
“Women are out in front and centre, recruiting, fundraising, arranging for the transport and movement of people and they themselves are trying to join. It is seen as a noble cause.”
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