Sexual slavery

Sexual slavery is a special case of slavery which includes various different practices:

  1. forced prostitution
  2. single-owner sexual slavery
  3. ritual slavery, sometimes associated with traditional religious practices
  4. slavery for primarily non-sexual purposes where sex is common or permissible

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

The term "sex slave" and "consensual sexual slavery" are sometimes used in BDSM to refer to a consensual agreement between sexual partners (see also total power exchange). This should not be confused with the meaning of the term as defined in this article, which refers specifically to unwilling slavery.

Modern types

Forced prostitution

Forced prostitution is a form of sexual slavery that is often directed at immigrants to Western and Asian countries. Often the "owners" of these people will confiscate passports and/or money in order to make them completely dependent. This practice, also known as sex trafficking or human trafficking, is illegal in most countries.

Human trafficking is not the same as people smuggling. A smuggler will facilitate illegal entry into a country for a fee, but on arrival at their destination, the smuggled person is free; the trafficking victim is enslaved. Traffickers use coercive tactics including deception, fraud, intimidation, isolation, threat and use of physical force, debt bondage or even force-feeding with drugs to control their victims. Women are typically recruited with promises of good, legal jobs in other countries or provinces, or are tricked into a false 'marriage', and, lacking better options at home, agree to migrate. Traffickers arrange the travel and job placements, the women are escorted to their destinations and delivered to the employers. Upon reaching their destinations, some women learn that they have been deceived about the nature of the work they will do; most have been lied to about the financial arrangements and conditions of their employment; and all find themselves in coercive and abusive situations and kept in a financial situation that they are stuck in a form of debt bondage from which escape is both difficult and dangerous.

A US Government report published in 2003, estimates that 800,000-900,000 people worldwide are trafficked across borders each year, the majority to Southeast Asia, Japan, Europe and North America. The trafficking of women has also been recorded (in lower numbers) in South Asia and the Middle East and from Latin America into the United States. Since the mid 1990s, with the opening up of the former Soviet Union, the end of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the opening up of East and Southeast Asia, there has been an increase in the trafficking of human beings. It is estimated that 2/3 of women trafficked for prostitution worldwide annually come from Eastern Europe, three-quarters have never worked as prostitutes before. An estimated 500,000 women from Central and Eastern Europe are working in prostitution in the European Union alone. Annually, thousands of Russian women end up as prostitutes in China, Japan, or South Korea. See the main article on the human trafficking.

A recent development should be noted that proponents of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in the United States, and Sweden's Act On Prohibiting The Purchase Of Sexual Services seek to define all forms of prostitution as exploitive or de facto slavery, and place emphasis on suppressing the demand for sex services, by prosecuting profiteers and customers. While this effort is advanced as a means to protect trafficked children and women, that are variously estimated at 20,000-100,000 annually in the United States, who have issued numerous critiques of these laws as another form of prohibition and stigmatization, that serve mainly to marginalize sex workers. Prostitute rights organizations argue that decriminalization and extension of labor rights to sex workers is more effective in ensuring their economic, mental and medical health than any form of prohibition.

The term "sex worker" itself is rejected by the advocates of anti-slavery laws, who argue that women cannot choose sex as an economic activity, and claim it is the criminal networks and customer demand that are the driving forces, not economic necessity.

The United States

Reports of child sex slavery and on the business of working children in organized criminal businesses as well as in legitimate businesses and trading sexual favours for contracts and business in the United States under both inhumane and humane conditions exist.

In 2002, the US Department of State repeated an earlier CIA estimate that each year, about 50,000 women and children are brought against their will to the United States for sexual exploitation.. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that "Here and abroad, the victims of trafficking toil under inhuman conditions -- in brothels, sweatshops, fields and even in private homes."


Sex slavery is a problem in some parts of Africa. The colonial powers abolished slavery in the 19th century, but in areas outside their jurisdiction, such as the Mahdist empire in Sudan, the practice continued to thrive.

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 until recently, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, northern Uganda, Congo, Niger and Mauritania.

In Ghana, Togo, and Benin, 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. This can be compared with the devadasi system in India.

The Middle East

In the contemporary Middle East, sexual slavery exists, and transportation and trafficking occurs. Israel has a significant sex trade-much of it involving women from Eastern Europe. Eastern European women also end up in Turkey and United Arab Emirates.

Many of the Iraqi women fleeing the Iraq War are turning to prostitution, while others are trafficked abroad, to countries like Syria, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Iran. In Syria alone, an estimated 50,000 Iraqi refugee girls and women, many of them widows, have become prostitutes. Cheap Iraqi prostitutes have helped to make Syria a popular destination for sex tourists. The clients come from wealthier countries in the Middle East - many are Saudi men. High prices are offered for virgins.


As many as 200,000 Nepali girls, many under 14, have been sold into the sex slavery in India. Nepalese women and girls, especially virgins, are favored in India because of their fair skin and young looks.


Sexual slavery in Pakistan is one of the worst in South Asia. Young girls (sometimes as young as 9 years old) are sold by their own fathers to brothels as sex slaves in big cities. Often this happens due to debt accumulated from gambling, whereby the father has no other way to raise the money than to sell his daughters. There have even been cases 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 Afghanistan who trick young virgin 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. . Watta satta (Urdu: ??? ???), which is a prevelant tribal practice of trading brides is also considered a form of sexual slavery by certain women's groups in Pakistan .

Southeast Asia

In Asia, Japan is the major destination country for trafficked women, especially from the Philippines and Thailand. The US State Department has rated Japan as either a 'Tier 2' or a 'Tier 2 Watchlist' country every year since 2001, in its annual Trafficking in Persons reports. Both these ratings implied that Japan was (to a greater or lesser extent) not fully compliant with minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking trade.

Currently an estimated 300,000 women and children are involved in the sex trade throughout Southeast Asia. It is common that Thai women are lured to Japan and sold to Yakuza-controlled brothels where they are forced to work off their price. In Cambodia at least a quarter of the 20,000 people working as prostitutes are children with some being as young as 5 (

Historical types


Prostitution, allied with destitution, was so widespread in Victorian Britain that campaigning journalist William Thomas Stead was able to buy a 13 year old virgin for 5, then equal to a labourer's monthly wage. See the Eliza Armstrong case.

North America

In the mid-19th century in the U.S., there was a white slavery scare which suggested that large numbers of white women were being kidnapped and forced into prostitution. The prevalence of this practice was greatly exaggerated due to xenophobia, and this phenomenon is generally regarded today as having been an example of a moral panic.

In fact, at that time, the US victims of sexual slavery were overwhelmingly women of African descent, held as slaves, often purchased primarily for sexual exploitation. One related but unverified story of one such girl, purchased as a sexual slave when she was 14, is told in Celia, A Slave by Melton A. Mclaurin. Such practice is also widely referred to in other literature discussing the era e.g. '' by Alex Haley and Chapter 30 of Uncle Tom's Cabin''. Frederick Douglass, in his autobiography, described the sale of female slaves openly advertised for sexual purposes at slave auctions in the 19th century United States. According to John A. Morone's book Hellfire Nation, slaveowners in the American South openly admitted to practicing sexual slavery, while Southern diarist, Mary Chestnut famously wrote that

East and Southeast Asia during World War II

"Comfort women" is a euphemism for the up to 200,000 women who served in the Japanese army's brothels during World War II. Historians and researchers into the subject have stated that the majority were from Korea, China and other occupied territories and were recruited by force or deception to serve as sex slaves.

By Nazi Germany in WWII

At least 34,000 women from Europe were forced into prostitution. Usually organized in hotels confiscated from their rightful places, they also served travelling soldiers or those withdrawn from the front. Usually they also included a bar, a restaurant and a brothel. In most cases, especially in the East, the women were forced to serve as prostitutes after being caught at random on the streets in ?apankas, kidnapping raids by Nazi German military of civilians in Poland.

The Middle East

Slave trade, including trade of sex slaves, fluctuated in certain regions in the Middle East up until the 20th century. These slaves came largely from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caucasus, and often from parts of Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Saudi Arabia was the last modern country to legally abolish slavery, as late as 1962.

Further reading

See also

External links

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