Trafficking Terror: How Modern Slavery and Sexual Violence Fund Terrorism

By Nikita Malik



Terrorists are using sexual violence, including rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriage, to bolster recruits, galvanize fighters, and, in the case of Islamist groups, punish kuffar (disbelievers).

These are just part of our shocking new report. The findings and calls for action within the report have been welcomed by many MPs and the government’s former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.

The report’s author, Nikita Malik, said: “The international community must recognise and address the nexus between this criminality and security. Historical revenue streams, including taxation and oil sales, to groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram are decreasing. These are being replaced with hostage-taking and ransom efforts, meaning modern day slavery may increase as Daesh struggles to sustain its financial reserves. ‎

“Illicit economies complicate efforts to protect the victims of human trafficking and prosecute perpetrators of violence under international law. In the UK, ‎laws including the Modern Slavery and Terrorism Acts must now be interpreted more broadly in order to reflect the spectrum of crimes committed by individuals using sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism.”

The report cites a number of case studies including a ten-year-old Libyan child who was raped by traffickers more than once while she was being held in a camp.

The report, entitled Trafficking Terror, finds that there are clear links between terrorists, criminals, and traffickers.

  • Terrorists are using organised crime tactics such as money laundering, migrant smuggling, drug and firearms trafficking, and human trafficking. Sexual slavery markets in territory controlled by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have been common, as has the use of human trafficking marketplaces in Libya.
  • A clear driver behind sexual trafficking is financial gain. While terrorists seem to commit sexual violence for ideological reasons, ransom payments point to a new source of revenue for terrorism that is directly linked to the use of sexual violence.
  • Modern slavery provides monetary flows to terrorist organisations such as Islamic State and Boko Haram through the sale and re-sale of human bodies, with reports indicating that kidnapping represents $10-30 million of revenue to Daesh in 2016.

The report has been welcomed, with the government’s former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Lord Carlile QC, saying: “The work the HJS is launching is a must-read for all those who wish to attack sexual trafficking and its part in the horrors of modern slavery. It highlights the imperative need for more international cooperation, to break up the trafficking gangs and routes, which are so essential for their wicked trade in human beings.”

Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “It is vital the complex relationship between human trafficking, sexual violence and both the funding for, and tactics deployed, by terrorist groups is fully understood and reflected in domestic and international law if we are to effectively combat these dangerous organisations.

“ISIL, Boko Haram and other evil groups are increasingly seeing human trafficking as a possible revenue stream – and we know that terrorists use sexual violence as one of the weapons they use to divide and create fear within communities. It is important this is recognised in the interpretation of terror in our current laws.

“This report is a very important step forward and the Government should look carefully at the recommendations set out.”

Ian Austin MP, a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said: “Situations of conflict exacerbate trafficking for sexual purposes because so many people are displaced. Those affected suffer not just the results of war and conflict, but are often victims of sexual violence, modern slavery and terrorism too. This report is an important reminder that victims of sexual violence should be considered victims of terrorism, and those responsible must be held to account and prosecuted.”

Henry Smith MP, a member of the International Development Committee, said: “The report highlights the profoundly important, but so far largely unexamined, criminal interconnectivity between human trafficking, sexual violence and terrorism. It is clear that sexual violence is prevalent in human trafficking and in terrorism – and abhorrently human trafficking is becoming more closely related to terrorism. The report illustrates this nexus in operation using case studies of Boko Haram and Daesh, as well as examining the routes where the human trafficking and terrorism trade is likely to occur in the future.”

Baroness Cox, Founder and CEO of the Humanitarian Aid Trust, said: “Many women and girls worldwide are suffering systematic abuse at the hands of extremist groups. Victims have even been the currency used in the commission of terrorist attacks. This timely report reminds us that their plight must not go unnoticed.”

To download the full report, click here.

To download an infographic of the report, click here.


Lost your password?

Not a member? Please click here