Responsibility and the Harm of Mass Sexual Slavery
Fyfe, Shannon Elizabeth
The aim of my dissertation is to explore philosophical questions motivated by the mass sexual slavery of Yazidi women and girls by the Islamic State. The Islamic State has targeted the Yazidis in Syria for destruction due to religious practices it sees as “devil worship,” and has engaged in a sustained practice of sexually enslaving Yazidi women and girls. I analyze underlying metaphysical, political, and moral concepts in order to identify the responsibilities of the individual and collective perpetrators, as well bystanders. While the dissertation is motivated by a specific case of violence, I use my analysis of the case and the related concepts to draw out conclusions beyond the circumstances of the Yazidis. I begin by looking at ontological questions about the morality of perpetrators and victims of violence, and I defend a hybrid account of groups that recognizes groups as moral particulars, but also recognizes the individual members of the group as distinct moral and legal entities. I then explore conceptions of harm and wrongdoing, specifically related to sexual slavery, in both individual and group contexts. I defend an account of harm as injury to well-being, which takes into account the subjective experiences of individuals, but I argue for an objective account of the wrongness of sexual slavery. I go on to consider the models we have for thinking about statehood and I argue that the Islamic State should be seen as a non-state actor, rather than as a state, but that it has violated both positive and negative obligations regardless of whether or not it is recognized as a state. I ultimately defend an account of individual, collective, and shared moral responsibility for perpetrators of and bystanders to the harm suffered by the Yazidi women and girls.