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Sexual slavery is the organized coercion of unwilling people into different sexual practices. Sexual slavery may include single-owner sexual slavery, ritual slavery sometimes associated with traditional religious practices, slavery for primarily non-sexual purposes where sex is common, or forced prostitution.

In general, the nature of slavery means that the slave is de facto available for sexual intercourse, and ordinary social conventions and legal protections that would otherwise constrain an owner's actions are not effective. For example, extramarital sex between a married man and a slave was not considered adultery in most societies that accepted slavery.

Definition of sexual slavery

According to the Rome Statute (Article 7(2)(c)) sexual enslavement means the exercise of any or all of the powers attached to the "right of ownership" over a person. It comprises the repeated violation or sexual abuse or forcing the victim to provide sexual services as well as the rape by the captor. The crime has the character of a continuing offence. The Rome Statute's definition of sexual slavery includes situations where persons are forced to domestic servitude, marriage or any other forced labour involving sexual activity, as well as the trafficking of persons, in particular women and children.

Forced prostitution

Sexual slavery encompasses most, if not all, forms of forced prostitution. The terms "forced prostitution" or "enforced prostitution" appear in international and humanitarian conventions but have been insufficiently understood and inconsistently applied. "Forced prostitution" generally refers to conditions of control over a person who is coerced by another to engage in sexual activity.

In 1949 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (the 1949 Convention). The 1949 Convention supersedes a number of earlier conventions that covered some aspects of forced prostitution. Signatories are charged with three obligations under the 1949 Convention: prohibition of trafficking, specific administrative and enforcement measures, and social measures aimed at trafficked persons. The 1949 Convention presents two shifts in perspective of the trafficking problem in that it views prostitutes as victims of the procurers, and in that it eschews the terms "white slave traffic" and "women," using for the first time race- and gender-neutral language. Article 1 of the 1949 Convention provides punishment for any person who "[p]rocures, entices or leads away, for purposes of prostitution, another person" or "[e]xploits the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of that person." To fall under the provisions of the 1949 Convention, the trafficking need not cross international lines.

The line between forced and voluntary prostitution is very thin, and prostitution in and on itself is seen by many as an abusive practice and a form of violence against women. In Swedenmarker, Norwaymarker and in Icelandmarker it is illegal to pay for sex (the client commits a crime, but not the prostitute), as these countries consider all forms of prostitution to be exploitive or de facto slavery, and place emphasis on suppressing the demand for sex services, by prosecuting the customers and the profiteers.

Many individuals and organisations believe that prostitution (or the activities which surround it) should be kept illegal; they argue that legalized prostitution does nothing to improve the situation of the prostitutes and leads only to an increase in criminal activities and human trafficking. Many feminists are also opposed to prostitution, see feminist objections to prostitution.

However, the the criminalization of voluntary prostitution is condemned by sex workers' rights advocates, who argue that the decriminalization and extension of labor rights to sex workers is more effective in ensuring their general wellbeing than any form of prohibition. Sex worker activists, however, oppose systems of regulated prostitution (such as in Nevadamarker), as they see these approaches and these tight regulations as degrading and oppresive for the sex workers; instead they lobby for full decriminalization.

Crime against humanity

The Rome Statute Explanatory Memorandum, which defines the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, recognises rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, "or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity" as crime against humanity if the action is part of a widespread or systematic practice. Sexual slavery was first recognized as crime against humanity when the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslaviamarker issued arrest warrants based on the Geneva Conventions and Violations of the Laws or Customs of War. Specifically, it was recognised that Muslim women in Foca (southeastern Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker) were subjected to systematic and widespread gang rape, torture and sexual enslavement by Bosnian Serb soldiers, policemen, and members of paramilitary groups after the takeover of the city in April 1992. The indictment was of major legal significance and was the first time that sexual assaults were investigated for the purpose of prosecution under the rubric of torture and enslavement as a crime against humanity. The indictment was confirmed by a 2001 verdict by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslaviamarker that rape and sexual enslavement are crimes against humanity. This ruling challenged the widespread acceptance of rape and sexual enslavement of women as intrinsic part of war. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslaviamarker found three Bosnian Serb men guilty of rape of Bosniac (Bosnian Muslim) women and girls (some as young as 12 and 15 years of age), in Foca, eastern Bosnia-Herzegovinamarker. The charges were brought as crimes against humanity and war crimes. Furthermore two of the men were found guilty of the crime against humanity of sexual enslavement for holding women and girls captive in a number of de facto detention centers. Many of the women subsequently disappeared.

Historical sexual slavery

Arab slave trade

Slave trade, including trade of sex slaves, fluctuated in certain regions in the Middle East up until the twentieth century (see also Arab slave trade). These slaves came largely from Sub-Saharan Africa (mainly Zanj), the Caucasus (mainly Circassians), Central Asia (mainly Tartars), and Central and Eastern Europe (mainly Saqaliba). The Barbary pirates also captured 1.25 million slaves from Western Europe and North Africa between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.

In contrast to the Atlantic slave trade where the male-female ratio was 2:1 or 3:1, the Arab slave trade usually had a higher female:male ratio instead, suggesting a general preference for female slaves. Concubinage and reproduction served as incentives for importing female slaves (often from the Caucasus), though many were also imported mainly for performing household tasks (usually when the owner was female).

White slavery

In English-speaking countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries, sexual slavery was referred to as "white slavery," not so much because of the race of the victims but to distinguish it from the full-scale, hereditary system of slavery that had been imposed on black people in the Americas.

In Victorian Britainmarker, campaigning journalist William Thomas Stead, (editor of the Pall Mall Gazette) procured a 13 year-old girl for £5, an amount then equal to a labourer's monthly wage (see the Eliza Armstrong case). Panic over the "traffic in women" rose to a peak in England in the 1880s. At the time, "white slavery" was a natural target for defenders of public morality and crusading journalists. The ensuing outcry led to the passage of antislavery legislation in Parliament.

However, it has been reported that the most extreme claims "were almost certainly exaggerated". Investigations of alleged abductions in Victorian England often found that the purported "victims" had participated voluntarily. Still, the "climate of prudery" prevalent in the late Victorian era made for easy scandalization of almost anything sexual, and various prohibitions were enacted. Parliament passed the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, raising the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen in that year.

A subsequent scare occurred in the United States in the early twentieth century, peaking in 1910, when Chicagomarker's U.S. attorney announced (without giving details) that an international crime ring was abducting young girls in Europe, importing them, and forcing them to work in Chicago brothels. These claims, and the panic they inflamed, led to the passage of the United States White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910. It also banned the interstate transport of females for immoral purposes. Its primary intent was to address prostitution and immorality. The act is better known as the Mann Act, after James Robert Mann, an American lawmaker.

Chinesemarker immigrants in the U.S. were singled out as white slavers, although any such activity was restricted to the criminal segment of the Chinese community. As an example of this in American culture, the musical comedy Thoroughly Modern Millie features a Chinese-run prostitution ring, which is specifically referred to as "white slavery." The gangster movie Prime Cut has mid-West white slaves sold like cattle.

In Christian Europe, on the other hand, the predominant image linked the term "white slavery" to the Ottoman harems and Arab slave traders, particularly the Barbary pirates who captured more than a million slaves from Western Europe and North Africa.


In the 16th and 17th centuries, Portuguese visitors and their South Asian lascar (and sometimes African) crewmembers often engaged in slavery in Japan, where they bought or captured young Japanese women and girls, who were either used as sexual slaves on their ships or taken to Macaumarker and other Portuguese colonies in Southeast Asia, the Americas, and Indiamarker. For example, in Goamarker, a Portuguese colony in Indiamarker, there was a community of Japanese slaves and traders during the late 16th and 17th centuries.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a network of Chinese and Japanese prostitutes being trafficked across Asia, in countries such as Chinamarker, Japanmarker, Koreamarker, Singaporemarker and British India, in what was then known as the ’Yellow Slave Traffic’. There was also a network of prostitutes from continental Europe being trafficked to India, Ceylon, Singapore, China and Japan at around the same time, in what was then known as the ’White Slave Traffic’.

During World War II, Japanesemarker soldiers engaged in sexual slavery during their invasions across East Asia and Southeast Asia. The term "comfort women" is a euphemism for the estimated 200,000, mostly Korean, Chinese, and Filipino women who were forced into prostitution in Japanese military brothels during World War II.

Sexual slavery in the United States

In the 21st Century women, mostly from South America, Southeast Asia, and the former Soviet Union, were trafficked into the United States for sexual slavery. In some cases American citizens are tricked into becoming sex slaves.

In Houstonmarker some establishments called cantinas had illegal sex slaves.

Today the United States State Department estimates that 50,000 to 100,000 women and girls are trafficked each year in the United States. Many times these girls are some of the most vulnerable that are thrust into this industry. According to Girl’s Education & Mentoring Services (GEMS), an organization based in New York, the majority of girls that are thrown into this industry were abused as children. Poverty and a lack of education play major roles in the lives of the women in this industry.

Paramour rights

The term paramour rights refers to the Americanmarker practice of a white man taking a black woman to whom he was not married as his concubine. The term "paramour rights" was first used by Zora Neale Hurston. The practice, she claimed, began prior to the Civil War and was reinforced afterward by anti-miscegenation laws, which prohibited interracial marriage between whites and non-whites. Hurston first wrote about the practice in her anthropological studies of the turpentine camps of North Floridamarker in the 1930s, though support for her conclusions is weak or non-existent. She believed that the death knell of paramour rights was sounded by the trial of Ruby McCollum, a black woman who murdered her white lover, Dr. C. Leroy Adams, in Live Oak, Floridamarker, in 1952. McCollum's trial, which Hurston covered for the Pittsburgh Courier.

Bride kidnapping and raptio

[[Image:Poussin RapeSabineLouvre.jpg|thumb|right|300px|Rape of the Sabine Women, by Nicolas Poussin, Rome, 1637-38 (Louvre Museummarker)(Note: The Roman Architecture depicted in the background didn't come into existence until sometime after the depicted event.)]]

Bride kidnapping, also known as marriage by abduction or marriage by capture, is a form of marriage practiced in some traditional cultures, in countries spanning Central Asia, the Caucasus region, parts of Africa, and among the Hmong in southeast Asia, the Tzeltal in Mexicomarker, and the Romani in Europe. Though the motivations behind bride kidnapping vary by region, the cultures with traditions of marriage by abduction are generally patriarchal with a strong social stigma on sex or pregnancy outside of marriage and illegitimate births. In some cases, the couple collude together to elope under the guise of a bride kidnapping, presenting their parents with a fait accompli. In most cases, however, the men who resort to capturing a wife are often of lower social status, because of poverty, disease, poor character or criminality. They are sometimes deterred from legitimately seeking a wife because of the payment the woman's family expects, the bride price (not to be confused with a dowry, paid by the woman's family).

Bride kidnapping is distinguished from raptio in that the former refers to the abduction of one woman by one man (and his friends and relatives), and is still a widespread practice, whereas the latter refers to the largescale abduction of women by groups of men, possibly in a time of war (see also war rape). The Latin term raptio refers to abduction of women, either for marriage (e.g. kidnapping or elopement) or enslavement (particularly sexual slavery). In Roman Catholic canon law, raptio refers to the legal prohibition of matrimony if the bride was abducted forcibly (Canon 1089 CIC). The historical English term for the abduction of women is rape, see below; Frauenraub, originally from German, is still used in English in the field of art history. The practice is surmised to have been common since anthropological antiquity. In Neolithic Europe, excavation of the Linear Pottery culture site at Asparn-Schletzmarker, Austriamarker, the remains of numerous slain victims were found. Among them, young adult females and children were clearly under-represented, suggesting that the attackers had killed the men but abducted the nubile females.

Sexual slavery during armed conflict and war

Rape and sexual violence have accompanied warfare in virtually every known historical era. Rape in the course of war is condoned in the Bible; Moses instructs the Israelites in Numbers 31 to take Midian women as sex slaves: (31:17-18) "Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." Before the 19th Century military circles supported the notion that all persons, including unarmed women and children, were still the enemy, with the belligerent having conquering rights over them. "To the victor goes the spoils" has been a war cry for centuries and women were included as part of the spoils of war.

Institutionalised sexual slavery and enforced prostitution have been documented in a number of wars, most notably the Second World War. A widely publicised example are "comfort women", a euphemism for the up to 200,000 women who served in the Japanesemarker army's brothels during World War II. Historians and researchers into the subject have stated that the majority were from Koreamarker, Chinamarker, and other occupied territories part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and were recruited by force or deception to serve as sex slaves. Similarly forced prostitution by the Nazis for sexual gratification of German soldiers and members of other Nazi controlled organizations became prevalent in occupied Europe during World War II. It is estimated that a minimum of 34,140 women from occupied states were forced to work as prostitutes during the Third Reich..

Contemporary sexual slavery

In Africa the colonial powers abolished slavery in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but in areas outside their jurisdiction, such as the Mahdist empire in Sudanmarker, the practice continued to thrive (see also: Slavery in modern Africa). Now, institutional slavery has been banned worldwide, but there are numerous reports of women sex slaves in areas without an effective government control, such as, Sudan, Liberiamarker, Sierra Leonemarker, northern Uganda, Congomarker, Nigermarker and Mauritaniamarker. In Ghanamarker, Togomarker, and Beninmarker, a form of religious prostitution known as trokosi ("ritual servitude") forcibly keeps thousands of girls and women in traditional shrines as "wives of the gods", where priests perform the sexual function in place of the gods.

In Indiamarker as many as 200,000 Nepalimarker girls, many under the age of 14, have been sold into sex slavery. Nepalese women and girls, especially virgins, are favoured in India because of their fair skin and young looks. In Pakistanmarker, young girls (sometimes as young as 9 years old) on few instances have been sold by their families to brothels as sex slaves in big cities. Often this happens due to poverty or debt, whereby the family has no other way to raise the money than to sell the young girl. Few cases have also been recorded where wives and sisters have been sold to brothels to raise money for gambling, drinking or consuming drugs. Many sex slaves are also bought by 'agents' in Afghanistanmarker who trick young girls into coming to Pakistan for well-paying jobs. Once in Pakistan they are taken to brothels (called Kharabat) and forced into sexual slavery for many years. Sexual slavery also exists in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, where women and children are trafficked from the post-Soviet states, Eastern Europe, Far East, Africa, South Asia and other parts of the Middle East.

In the United States of Americamarker, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has also been implicated in the trafficking of underage women across state and international boundaries (US/Canada). In most cases, this is for the continuation of polygamous practices, in the form of plural marriage.

See also


68. Markon, Jerry, Washington Post. “Human Trafficking Evokes Outrage, Little Evidence” September 23, 2007:

69. Fine, Glenn U.S. Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine report August 8, 2008:

70. Davies, Nick Guardian newspaper “Inquiry fails to find single trafficker who forced anybody into prostitution” October 20, 2009 Davies, Nick Guardian newspaper “Prostitution and trafficking – the anatomy of a moral panic” October 20, 2009

72. Ozimek, John The register “UK gov prostituiton proposals caught with pants down” Oct 22, 2009:

73. Dasgupta, Rajashri, and Murthy, Laxmi The hoot media: “Human trafficking exaggerated numbers?” January, 2009

74. Weitzer, Ronald -George Washington University report:

75. Waterfield, Bruno Spiked online “Exposed: the myth of the World Cup sex slaves” February, 2007

Further reading

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External links

Ex-Prostitutes Say South Korea and U.S. Enabled Sex Trade Near Bases -

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