The Current

Trauma survivors 'can change society,' says psychologist helping Yazidi survivors of ISIS

Western society doesn't understand what trauma survivors can achieve, says Dr Jan Kizilhan, a Kurdish-German psychologist who helps Yazidi survivors of ISIS sexual slavery.

Western society does not understand trauma, says Dr. Jan Kizilhan

Dr. Jan Kizilhan has helped more than 1,000 Yazidi women resettle in Germany after escaping sexual slavery while in ISIS captivity. (Submitted by Jan Kizilhan)

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Warning: this story contains graphic details readers may find disturbing.

Survivors of trauma have the resilience to change our society for the better, according to a Kurdish-German psychologist who helps Yazidi survivors of ISIS sexual slavery.

Dr. Jan Kizilhan has visited dozens of refugee camps in Iraq on behalf of the German government, hand-picking the most vulnerable women to be relocated to Europe.

He told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti about Randa, an 8-year-old girl whose father and grandfather had been killed by ISIS in front of her. She was then raped by the militants for eight months before escaping captivity.

When he offered to take her to Germany, she asked him if the country had schools.

He asked why, "and she said: 'I want to be one day like you, a doctor, and to help my own people.'"

"Trauma don't mean they are just sick and have to be in a bed," Kizilhan told Tremonti.

"[It] is also a chance to learn and to ... change the society."

When ISIS targetted Yazidi villages in northern Iraq in 2014, thousands of men were killed, while women and girls were sold into sexual slavery. Thousands more were displaced. (Rodi Said/Reuters)

The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking, religious minority in Iraq. In August 2014, ISIS militants killed thousands of Yazidi men in northern Iraqi villages, sold women and girls into sexual slavery and took boys to raise as child soldiers.

Last year, the federal government pledged to resettle 1,200 ISIS survivors in Canada, with an emphasis on Yazidi families. A petition tabled in the House of Commons last week called on the government to provide more psychological support for those women.

In June, one of those new arrivals to Canada told The Current about the trauma she still suffered, knowing she had left family and friends behind.

"I came to Canada, to safety, but I'm not at peace," said Basema, a Yazidi woman who escaped ISIS in 2017 and now lives in Toronto. "I know the Yazidis are going through hell."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

Produced by Pacinthe Mattar.