Sexual Slavery and Human Trafficking

Single-owner sexual slavery, forced prostitution, enslavement for largely non-sexual reasons when non-consensual sexual activity is prevalent, and ritual slavery that is occasionally connected to certain religious practices, such as ritual servitude in Ghana, Togo, and Benin, are all examples of sexual slavery.

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action call for a global campaign to raise awareness of sexual slavery and the violation of human rights that it constitutes. UNESCO has researched and compiled data on the prevalence of sexual slavery in countries with the assistance of other international organisations.

Meaning of Sexual Slavery

A phenomenon known as "sexual slavery" occurs when a person is owned by another and coerced into working in the sex industry. Prostitution, pornography, child sex rings, sex tourism, and jobs like nude dance and modelling are all considered aspects of sex slavery. The collection and movement of victims is sex trafficking. Men can be victims of sexual slavery, but typically, women and children are the ones who suffer.

Minorities and the poor are also particularly vulnerable. An important component of trafficking activities is sex slavery. Some sexually trafficked individuals are duped into thinking they are being sent to work in lawful occupations. Forced prostitution is the most typical form of sex slavery among all others. One of the more modern types is called "cybersex," in which people are coerced into taking part in various sexual actions that are streamed online.

Types of Sexual Slavery

Following are the major types of sexual slavery −

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Adults

Commercial adult sexual exploitation, sometimes known as "sex trafficking," is a form of human trafficking that entails the forceful or abusive recruitment, transit, transfer, harbouring, or receiving of individuals for sexual exploitation. There are other types of human trafficking than commercial sexual exploitation, and estimates differ as to what proportion of them are done to bring people into sexual slavery.

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

Child pornography, child sex tourism, child prostitution, and other types of transactional sex with children are all examples of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). According to the Youth Advocate Programme International (YAPI), CSEC is a modern-day version of slavery that involves coercion and brutality against minors.

Child Prostitution

Sexual slavery takes the form of child prostitution, often known as "child sex trafficking." It is the commercial exploitation of children's sexuality in which a young person engages in prostitution, typically to earn money for an adult.

Child Sex Tourism

A type of child sex trafficking, child sex tourism, is primarily focused on purchasing and selling minors for sexual servitude. It occurs when an adult travels to another nation with the intention of abusing children in a way that is supported by commerce. The effects of child sex tourism include "disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and possibly death" for the exploited children.

Child Pornography

The term "child pornography," often known as "child abuse images," describes pictures or films that show children engaging in sexually explicit behaviour. Child pornography thus frequently serves as a visual record of child sexual abuse. When a child is abused, it usually happens during the sexual actions that are documented in child pornography. The repercussions of the abuse on the child (which often persist until adulthood) are exacerbated by the widespread availability of the abuse's photographic evidence.

Cybersex Trafficking

Most often, women and children who have been forced to perform in live-streaming shows featuring forced sex acts or rape on webcams are the victims of cybersex trafficking. Usually, they are forced to obey commands while watching paying customers on communal screens. The "cybersex dens," which are spaces with webcams, are where it takes place.

Forced Prostitution

One could consider forced prostitution to be a form of sexual slavery. In international and humanitarian treaties, the terms "forced prostitution" and "enforced prostitution" are used; however, they are inconsistently and inadequately understood. In general, the term "forced prostitution" refers to authority over a person who is pressured to engage in sexual behaviour.

Sexual Slavery in Criminal Law

Criminal law defines "sexual slavery" as any act of sexual intercourse that a person endures, consents to, engages in, or performs under the influence of coercion, violence, threats, fear, deception, or without the other person's express written consent. Any intentional touching, fondling, or penetration of the victim's intimate body by the perpetrator for the purpose of arousing or satisfying the perpetrator's sexual desires or as a means of degrading, humiliating, or punishing the victim is considered sexual contact in this context.

Therefore, sexual violence, such as rape, is a form of criminal sexual interaction. Despite the fact that the term "legal consent" to a sexual act has been defined in a number of ways, most, if not all, of the following situations are considered to be lacking in legal consent −

  • The victim actively opposes the act;

  • The victim otherwise signals to the perpetrator that he or she does not agree to the act;

  • The victim does not voluntarily signal to the perpetrator that he or she agrees to the act;

  • The victim is a minor or a child;

  • The victim does not understand the significance or consequences of the act; or

  • The victim is mentally or physically incapable in ways that are relevant, such as being drunk or uncooperative.

Sexual abuse and sexual assault are related crimes since they both involve unwanted sexual contact with a victim. The latter typically consists of a specific act committed by a perpetrator (or group of perpetrators) against a single person, as opposed to the former, which typically entails a series of criminal sexual contact acts carried out over time by a single perpetrator (or group of perpetrators).


Sexual slavery and human trafficking is a particular form of enslavement that includes restrictions on one's autonomy and on movement, and power to decide matters relating to one's sexual activity. Thus, the crime also includes forced marriages, domestic servitude, or other forced labour that ultimately involves forced sexual activity.

In contrast to the crime of rape, which is a completed offence, sexual slavery constitutes a continuing offence. Although sex slavery has long been a problem, exact numbers are difficult to estimate. According to some estimates, there are approximately five million sex slaves in the world (forcible marriages are not included in this figure).

Frequently Asked Question

Q1. Where does slavery still exist?

Ans. Forced prostitution is the type of slavery that is most prevalent in affluent areas like the United States, Western Europe, and the Middle East, along with migrant enslavement. Notably in Moldova and Laos, it is the main kind of slavery in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

Q2. When was slavery legal in India and when it made criminal offence?

Ans. In 1843, the British East India Company, which had control over large parts of India at the time, passed a law prohibiting the enslavement of any person within its territories. This law was followed by the Indian Slavery Act of 1848, which made slavery a criminal offense throughout British India.

Updated on: 10-May-2023


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