New York Times Reporter Reveals How She Landed ISIS Sex-Slavery Story

“I was very clear that I am a journalist, not an aid worker,” Rukmini Callimachi says

Following her ground-breaking New York Times report on women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority who were kidnapped and sold to ISIS fighters as sex slaves, reporter Rukmini Callimachi sat down with the Times to explain how she landed the story.

Callimachi said that she first became aware of the situation last year, but “at first we didn’t know what to make of he reports” that Yazidi women had been raped.

“They seemed exaggerated, and it seemed hard to believe they had enslaved large numbers of women,” Callimachi recalled.

Last October, however, when ISIS published an article in its flagship magazine detailing the sexual slavery and their theological rationale behind it, the reporter became interested in the topic.

Callimachi explained that she began to contact the women via aid groups that were advocating on their behalf, then began identifying the refugee camps where the women were living. After seeking government permission to travel to the camps, she met with an administrator, who connected her with a Yazidi elder, who in turn led her to the women.

The reporter added that it was essential to have a reliable Yazidi translator — and to keep her interview subjects’ expectations realistic.

“I was very clear that I am a journalist, not an aid worker; that I hoped to bring their story to light but am not in a position to help financially, and there is no guarantee that my story will have any direct positive repercussions for them,” Callimachi said. “There had been a lot of complaints following intense media spotlight last year; stories about reporters who came in offering and promising various things. Its my suspicion it was maybe a problem of translation. But I spoke to one Yazidi woman who said a reporter had approached her and promised her asylum in any European country that she wanted to go to in return for her story. Obviously that is not how a reporter works; I’m guessing that was a problem in translation. But I wanted to be crystal clear about what this interaction would be.”

Callimachi recalled that there was only one interview that struck her as particularly difficult, with a young woman who had been interviewed by multiple media outlets previously.

“I interviewed this woman and I could tell there was something off, but she kept on saying, ‘It’s O.K., it’s O.K., keep going.’ But then about 20 minutes in, she basically admitted that the only reason she was talking was that a Yazidi elder had called her in and told her that The New York Times was very important and she really should talk,” Callimachi said. “I stopped and said, you really shouldn’t feel any pressure. I have plenty of other people I am talking to, and if this makes you uncomfortable, I don’t want to be any part of that. So we stopped and basically had a little chitchat about other, unrelated things for another 10 minutes, and then we left.”

Read Callimachi’s full interview here.