05 July 2015

The Caliphettes

What were they thinking?

We ask this question of criminals, dumb and otherwise. Eve raised this query just days ago when she delved into guards who have sex with prisoners. She was ahead of the curve: a day later, ABC News featured their own article on the subject.


Richard Ramirez
Richard Ramirez
It’s too simplistic to lump all prison workers who fall for inmates into a single category, but one type is so common, the condition has its own name, hybristophilia, popularly called Bonnie and Clyde syndrome. Think of it as women who love the most extreme bad boys. If you believe it's strictly the inmates seeking sex, then reconsider.

Hybristophilia is defined as “a paraphilia of the predatory type in which sexual arousal, facilitation, and attainment of orgasm are responsive to and contingent upon being with a partner known to have committed an outrage, cheating, lying, known infidelities or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery.” The lexical roots of hybristophilia are the Greek words ὕβρις or ‘hubris’ and φιλία or philo, meaning ‘love of’.

Take No Prisoners

I once knew a prison sociologist, psychologist and teacher, an alumna of my university. ‘Dawn’ (not her real name) observed that some women are drawn to prisons as hunting grounds for a fantasy husband or at least a relationship. On the surface, these warders or support personnel tell themselves that such companionship is safe and confined if sometimes chaste, like a tiger on a leash only they can tame. Unsurprisingly, their real motives run much deeper and darker.

Jeffrey Dahmer
Jeffrey Dahmer
I’d like to trust my acquaintance never engaged in unlawful sex behind bars, but Dawn twice married prisoners, one on death row. In one marriage, she was allowed conjugal visits; in the other, she wasn’t.

This woman– bright, attractive, vibrant– earned her doctorate and a couple of masters degrees that assisted her career but not her personal life. She came to realize she wanted a normal relationship with a normal man– one not behind bars. But this lady’s view of herself was anything but the norm. Dawn felt her purpose was to be used– her word, not mine. Her need went beyond serving, beyond servile, beyond slavish; she felt she had no worth unless she was being deployed and destroyed like an object, an artifact of someone else’s existence.

Yet she was well-regarded in the prison system, her secret well hidden.

In describing her, I fear tainting the image of other women, of other prison professionals who toil in an unending, thankless, Sisyphean job. I fear giving the impression of an overly educated dilettante who became a victim of over-thinking or over-feeling. It’s difficult to gauge how much the job affected her. At core, Dawn was simply human, possibly someone who’d lost her way. Although the less educated appear to be more vulnerable, ultimately intelligence is no sure defense. To my knowledge and to her credit, prisoners were never at risk, only she. In trying to save and serve others, she sacrificed herself until little was left but an empty husk.

The Caliphettes

In regard to jihadi brides, psychologist Phyllis Chesler calls this ‘unfreedom’, the choosing of bondage over a surfeit of freedoms and decisions in their home countries. In other words, once a girl makes that final choice, she need make no more– all further decisions are made for her. Some see that as a sort of freedom in itself.

At present, the baddest of the bad are truly evil– the Caliphate of Daish or ISIS, combatants capable of any atrocity, terrorists who know no bounds. These men exert an attraction for vulnerable girls that goes beyond mere hybristophilia. Yet at root is the same empty vessel, the vulnerable unfilled desire into which a dangerous, dastardly man can pour sweet words and powerful images, making his target feel special, that she’s found happiness in a man the rest of the world misunderstands.

Jihadi Runaway Brides
Sometimes called ‘caliphettes’, these young women typically range from early teens into their twenties. If they’re already Muslim, they’re told family and friends aren’t truly Islamic. If not Muslim, they’re urged to convert, which can take surprisingly little persuasion.

Their on-line ‘lovers’ become their handlers who direct them to not stand out. They’re instructed to appear normal in every way until they’re ready to run, often to an innocent European destination, then a way station like Turkey, a jumping-off point for Syria and more treacherous places in the Middle East. Jihadis who successfully seduce girls to make the journey receive admiration from their peers.

One of the most shocking cases involves somewhat older women, three sisters in their thirties. They deceived and abandoned their husbands and parents in the UK, took their young children (nine in total), and slipped into Syria to join ISIS.

The Reality

The family that slays together…
We might imagine how these hijrah work out– naïve girls emigrating to a sharia country, in this case the newly risen Daish caliphate. You might remember a young Australian boy holding up the severed head of a slaughtered ‘enemy of ISIS’. With the male parent presumed dead, the child’s mother is now begging a cautious Australia to let her and the children return. While girls who make the journey are probably allotted to a jihadist husband as one of his wives, that's not guaranteed. Indeed, some believe girls may be shunted into rôles as battlefield sex slaves, assigned to service dozens of militants.

A valiant French journalist ‘Anna Erelle’ (again, not her real name) had been studying why European teenagers were attracted to Islamic extremism. She’d created an on-line, 19-year-old persona dubbed ‘Mélodie’ and investigated jihadist web sites. In her explorations, she attracted the attention of an ISIS fighter who said he’d take care of her. He quickly invited her to Syria to become one of his wives, or as he put it, ‘a queen’ (among four, of course). Following Erelle’s exposé, she now lives with police protection, a lonely existence since her presence might endanger family and friends. She’s a brave woman; read her story.

All is not lost. Britain is successfully practicing the Aarhus model of de-radicalization, a Danish program of salvaging young male recruits before they make that fateful journey. With luck, they might be able to extend a similar program to jihadi brides as well. In the meantime, ISIS poses a formidable lure that we might underestimate at our peril.


  1. A very informative post that started me thinking about Boko Haram, the jihadists in Nigeria, who are using some of the young women they kidnapped as suicide bombers. I wondered if they young women were willing bombers were coerced?

  2. A good piece.
    I'm sure that some men and women have always been drawn to violent or extremist groups as a solution to doubt, but the modern world with its many bewildering choices and lack of certainty has probably increased the dangers for the young and vulnerable.

  3. Louis, as you say, Boko Harum is deadly as well, competing with ISIS for minds and men. I imagine one way or another, their captured suicide bombers are forced.

    Janice, sadly I expect you're right. It will get worse before it gets better. It's so serious that it brings former adversaries together to combat this common cause.

  4. Great post, Leigh. At last, an explanation for all the women who fall in love with people like the Menendez brothers... Also, the jihadi brides sound just like any girl in America who's seduced and made captive by a pimp: convinced of being the one he loves, convinced that she is getting exactly what she deserves... And, of course, let's not forget there are men who are exactly the same way, who marry women in prison. It's a weird, weird world out there.

  5. Thanks for mentioning the Menendez brothers, Eve. I'd momentarily forgotten them. One of the ironies your article points out is that even when someone's in prison, their partner can't be sure they aren't cheating.

    There are men who marry women in prison. Desperation knows no bounds.

  6. "Desperation knows no bounds," you said in reply to Eve Fisher's insightful comment. I wonder if that desperation isn't the motivating factor for young teens who are seeking to belong to something with a structure-- a structure they've never experienced in their lives--lost souls suddenly wanted? Where are the Baptists, Evangelicals, rescuers, and basic soul-savers in all this?

    Interesting article, Leigh. I'm off to read the links you provided. Having said that, I concur with Eve but, somehow, I never get used to the weirdness. I feel irked, disgusted, and finally heart broken over the misdirected young and innocent. I feel clueless over the grown women who choose inmates. Your articles force me to open a window and take a good look from my safe little corner of the world. Sometimes I don't like reading it but sleuthing and exposing all the dark corners of the world are necessary to eradicate evil and save the innocent.

  7. Claire, I’m certain you’re right. Kids have such limited perspective in their small world. They may not be particularly self-centered if they feel alone or beset with injustice, real or imagined, but they may see no way out of their little corner. Someone paying attention, telling them they’ll be treated like a queen would be hard to resist.

    It is a waste… for them, for us, for a better world.

    And you’re right. I’m drawn to exposing these things, bringing them out into the open so we have to face them. It’s not fun, but it is necessary. Thank you!

  8. A Broad Abroad05 July, 2015 19:19

    - Crossing oceans in unseaworthy boats to reach new lands
    - Relationships with dangerous prison inmates
    - Joining radical religious groups
    - Gang affiliations

    What is lacking in family, school, community (both sacred and secular), society or country that makes these actions preferable alternatives?

    Without being simplistic, identifying and supplying the missing needs has got to be more practical than dealing with the problems once these drastic choices have been made.

  9. ABA, traditional family life has declined– I'm not talking about marriage equality but forces that have conspired to undermine parental rôles and the closeness one expects.

    At the same time, gangs have arisen that provide a twisted family structure and arguably, the largest of those gangs might be Daish. One of the links regarding the three sisters discussed the importance of family not only in dissuading radicalization, but also that the three sisters felt closest to their much-admired younger brother who'd become the family militant. In that case, family ties to him made the wives turn away from their husbands. Thanks, ABA!

  10. Strangely, perhaps, your post reminded me of a documentary I recenly saw, Leigh. The film Hot Girls Wanted focused on why porn films that used to use actresses portraying "the girl next door" have now largely been replaced by porn films use actresses who really were "the girl next door." In other words: Why are so many young women flocking to a life as porn stars?

    The film focuses, particularly, on young women lured by Craigslist ads to a house in Miami. There, a young fellow (who struck me as being very similar in outlook to the pimp mentioned in Eve's comment) greets them at the airport in his expensive SUV, then takes them back to his house, where they will live and pay rent to him while working on films that he arranges as their "talent agent." The house supports six women at a time, and they rotate constantly because the career expectation is only three to six months, unless lightning strikes.

    The reasons cited by these young women, for choosing this path, as well as the things they say about their feelings vis-a-vis their interaction with other porn industry people strikes me as frighteningly similar to what you wrote in your post.


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