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Women, girls and sexual slavery

Published:Sunday | March 4, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Heather Little-White, PhD, Contributor

Sexual slavery is the practice of people being unwillingly forced into slavery conditions for sexual exploitation. Slavery is a harsh reality for millions of people the world over who find themselves trapped in an exploitative and abusive system, bought and sold like objects, and treated with no dignity or human decency. Human-rights groups estimate that anywhere between 12.3 million and 27 million people are enslaved in forced/child labour, sexual servitude and involuntary servitude at any given time.

Slavery exists in several forms which all share some common characteristics where slaves are forced to work; are owned or controlled by an 'employer'; are dehumanised and treated as commodities; and are physically constrained and unable to move.

Sexual slavery may include single-ownership; ritual slavery sometimes associated with certain religious practices; slavery for domestic or farming purposes but where non-consensual sex is common, or forced prostitution. Sexual slavery during armed conflict is also common as is bride kidnapping or rape. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action calls for an international response to attempt to eradicate sexual slavery on the basis that it is a human-rights issue.

Children at risk

Children are at risk through sexual slavery which includes the commercial exploitation of children in acts such as:

• Child prostitution

• Child pornography

• Child sex tourism

Missing teenagers

"One type of slavery and exploitation that continues to proliferate at an alarming rate - and that has a particular relevance to women and girls - is sex trafficking/slavery"

In Jamaica, there is concern about the rate of human trafficking in Jamaica. The country still maintains its tier-two classification according to the Report of Human Trafficking from the US State Department. However, Jamaica has made some progress since the 2010 report which had placed the country in the same position. With the number of teenagers missing daily, it leaves one to wonder where they could have all gone.

Annually, several thousands of women and girls worldwide are trafficked from their homelands and herded into the illegal sex trade in other countries. While some are enticed with money and go willingly, several others are coerced into prostitution against their will. Trafficking is attractive because of its high earnings as sex slaves and prostitutes fetch good prices. According to the United Nations Office for Drug Control, the common destinations for victims are China, Nigeria, Albania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine (

Cycle of violence

Where there are high rates of unemployment and financial hardships among women, women will eagerly accept employment anywhere. They fall for advertisements for persons to work as entertainers, models, household helpers, kitchen aides or even mail-order brides. Once employed, women are caught in a cycle of threats, violence and forced prostitution. Passports and personal items are confiscated or destroyed and because these women have no identity, they live in constant fear of arrest. Their freedom is limited as they may be tied up or locked away and they may be burned with cigarettes and exposed to electric shocks. Living conditions are often unsanitary, with women living and working in the same tiny rooms.


What other risks are associated with sex trafficking of women and girls? They may die from AIDS and the threat of HIV/AIDS is increasing among children in sex violation acts. In Thailand, the awareness of AIDS among potential customers has driven the Thai sex industry to recruit more young girls from remote rural villages assuming that they should be free from the virus.

There are so many personal stories on human trafficking and debt bondage in all its forms. All of them highlight the need for action to help victims and change policy for the estimated four million people who are trafficked into sexual slavery (;

ENSLAVED Guatemalan

"She came from Guatemala, a woman in her early 20s smuggled into the United States for what she thought was a housekeeping job. The journey from her small town to the Texas border took 26 days. From there, she was whisked to a safe house near Houston, then brought to Tampa and moved once more to a house in Jacksonville. There, an enforcer for the human-trafficking operation told the woman her debt had jumped from $5,000 to $30,000. The enforcer demonstrated how to use a condom by rolling it over a beer bottle. He said she'd have to pay back the debt as a prostitute. She turned 25 tricks the next day and nearly every day for eight or nine months. This tortured existence - the daily life of a human-trafficking victim - ended when authorities intervened. The woman's captor was arrested in Clearwater."

Sinister sleepover

Internal trafficking often means little distance travelled and sexual assault to break down resistance may take place only blocks away from home.

'SN' was fortunate when she was abducted two years ago. Thanks to her mother and a local organisation, which organised a search for her, she was rescued after three days. She has gone public to warn other girls about how easy it is to be kidnapped and trafficked near home.

A typical 16-year-old in a middle-class home in suburban Pensacola, Florida, SN's nightmares began innocently enough: A new friend she had met in high school asked her to come to her home for a sleepover. Her father, didn't like the idea, but after weeks of lobbying by her daughter, her father met with the girlfriend and the man she said was her father. SN's father wanted to make sure her daughter would be safe.


But the girlfriend's 'father' was really a convicted felon, and the girl, who had a record of prostitution in Texas, was an accomplice in the abduction. "Her dad took us to this house and said he'd be right back and he left us there ... . I asked for some water because I was thirsty. I drank the water and I blacked out." The water had been laced with a drug. When she woke up, she was groggy and couldn't move.

"My legs were being held down, and the guy who was raping me was holding my hands back," she said in a quiet voice. "I kept screaming, 'Stop, please don't do this. Leave me alone.' But I was so weak, I couldn't fight them off. I was so really out of it. I blacked out a few times and I kept waking up. I was still being raped every time I woke up."

Left alone for a moment, SN managed to call her mother. Her mother said, "My cellphone rang. And all I heard was, "Mommy, help me, and the phone went dead. And I freaked!" She called police, but they told her that SN had probably run away from home, and they wouldn't be able to treat it as a missing-person case until 72 hours had elapsed.

A stroke of luck

With law enforcement unwilling to act, SN's family started their own search. By sheer luck, one search party stopped at a convenience store for something to drink, and SN's 14-year-old brother spotted his sister in the back seat of another car that had stopped at the same store. She was rescued, but her abductors managed to flee.


After three days of being raped and beaten and drugged, SN was dirty, bloody, bruised and barely alive. She was airlifted to a hospital and had to be resuscitated twice. In addition to her serious injuries, she had contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

SN said that her captor told her she had been sold on the Internet for $300,000 to a man in Texas. Fortunately, she was rescued before delivery could be made. During SN's ordeal in Florida, her captor took money from a number of men who raped her. When she screamed, he held a gun to her head and threatened to blow her brains out.

Afraid for her life, SN after returning home, later moved in with her boyfriend and now has a child of her own. SN's mother advises teens, "Listen to your parents. Just don't stop believing. Be strong," she said. "Follow what your parents say fully, fully. There are people out there who will help you. Speak up. Everybody needs to speak up. Girls that have gone through this, they're scared."


A teenager was seduced and abducted by Thomas Hose, the security guard at her school. At 14, she was robbed of the rest of her childhood as she was forced to live for 10 years on the top floor of her captor's house, not being allowed to go out until she was an adult. Incredibly, her captor's parents lived in the house the entire time, not having any idea that she was living in their son's room. By chance she was rescued by the sharp intuition of a local deli owner.

March 8 is International Women's Day

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