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Forced prostitution

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Forced prostitution

Forced prostitution, also known as involuntary prostitution, is prostitution or sexual slavery that takes place as a result of coercion by a third party. The terms "forced prostitution" or "enforced prostitution" appear in international and humanitarian conventions but have been insufficiently understood and inconsistently applied. "Forced prostitution" refers to conditions of control over a person who is coerced by another to engage in sexual activity. In its understanding of the distinction between sex work and forced prostitution, the Open Society Foundations organization states: "sex work is done by consenting adults, where the act of selling or buying sexual services is not a violation of human rights."


Forced prostitution is a crime against the person because of the violation of the victim's rights of movement through coercion and because of their commercial exploitation.

Forced prostitution is illegal under customary law in all countries. This is different from voluntary prostitution which may have a different legal status in different countries, which range from being fully illegal and punishable by death to being legal and regulated as an occupation.

While the legality of adult prostitution varies between jurisdictions, the prostitution of children is illegal nearly everywhere in the world.

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. This Convention supersedes a number of earlier conventions that covered some aspects of forced prostitution, and also deals with other aspects of prostitution. It penalises the procurement and enticement to prostitution as well as the maintenance of brothels. As at December 2013, the Convention has only been ratified by 82 countries. One of the main reasons it has not been ratified by many countries is because it also applies to voluntary prostitution. For example, in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Greece and Turkey and other countries voluntary prostitution is legal and regulated as an occupation.

Child prostitution

Child prostitution is considered inherently non-consensual and exploitative, as children, because of their age, are not legally able to consent. In most countries child prostitution is illegal irrespective of the child reaching a lower statutory age of consent.

State parties to the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography are required to prohibit child prostitution. The Protocol defines a child as any human being under the age of 18, "unless an earlier age of majority is recognized by a country's law". The Protocol entered into force on 18 January 2002, and as of December 2013, 166 states are party to the Protocol and another 10 states have signed but not yet ratified it.

The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (Convention No 104) of the International Labour Organization (ILO) provides that the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution is one of the worst forms of child labor. This convention, adopted in 1999, provides that countries that had ratified it must eliminate the practice urgently. It enjoys the fastest pace of ratifications in the ILO's history since 1919.

In the United States, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 classifies any "commercial sex act [which] is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age" to be a "Severe Form of Trafficking in Persons".

In many countries, especially poorer countries, child prostitution remains a very serious problem, and numerous tourists from the Western World travel to these countries to engage in child sex tourism. Thailand, Cambodia, India, Brazil and Mexico have been identified as leading hotspots of child sexual exploitation.

Human trafficking

Human trafficking, especially of girls and women, often leads to forced prostitution and sexual slavery. According to a report by the UNODC, internationally, the most common destinations for victims of human trafficking are Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Israel, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the United States. The major sources of trafficked persons are Thailand, China, Nigeria, Albania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Following the first international conference on the prevention of trafficking of women in Paris in 1885 a series of initiatives to restrict the trade of women into the sex trade were initiated. Both the League of Nations and the United Nations have addressed the issue.

Due to the illegal nature of prostitution and the different methodologies used in separating forced prostitution from voluntary prostitution, the extent of this phenomenon is difficult to estimate accurately. According to a 2008 report by the US Department of State: "Annually, according to U.S. Government-sponsored research completed in 2006, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders, which does not include millions trafficked within their own countries. Approximately 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors, and the majority of transnational victims are trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation." The United Nations stated in 2009 that estimates showed there could be around 270,000 victims of human trafficking in the European Union. Not everyone believes that such large numbers of people are trafficked against their will. The Economist and Elizabeth Pisani claim that only a small proportion of prostitutes are explicitly trafficked against their will.

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (also referred to as the Palermo Protocol) is a protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and defines human trafficking as the "recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation." For this reason, threat, coercion, or use of force is not necessary to constitute trafficking, the exploitation of an existing vulnerability – such as economic vulnerability or sexual vulnerability – is sufficient. Sigma Huda, UN special reporter on trafficking in persons, observed that "For the most part, prostitution as actually practiced in the world usually does satisfy the elements of trafficking." However Save the Children see explicit trafficking and prostitution as different issues: "The issue [human trafficking] however, gets mired in controversy and confusion when prostitution too is considered as a violation of the basic human rights of both adult women and minors, and equal to sexual exploitation per se. From this standpoint then, trafficking and prostitution become conflated with each other".

Voluntary vs involuntary prostitution

With regard to prostitution, three worldviews exist: abolitionism (where the prostitute is considered a victim), regulation (where the prostitute is considered a worker) and prohibitionism (where the prostitute is considered a criminal). Currently in the Western World, two main tendencies oppose each other: abolitionism and regulation.

For the proponents of the abolitionist view, prostitution is always a coercive practice, and the prostitute is seen as a victim. They argue that most prostitutes are forced into the practice, either directly, by pimps and traffickers, indirectly through poverty, drug addiction and other personal problems, or, as it has been argued in recent decades by radical feminists such as Andrea Dworkin, Melissa Farley and Catharine MacKinnon, merely by patriarchal social structures and power relations between men and women. William D. Angel finds that "most" prostitutes have been forced into the occupation through poverty, lack of education and employment possibilities. Kathleen Barry argues that there should be no distinction between "free" and "coerced", "voluntary" and "involuntary" prostitution, "since any form of prostitution is a human rights violation, an affront to womanhood that cannot be considered dignified labour". France’s Green Party argues: “The concept of "free choice" of the prostitute is indeed relative, in a society where gender inequality is institutionalized”. The proponents of the abolitionist view hold that prostitution is a practice which ultimately leads to the mental, emotional and physical destruction of the women who engage in it, and, as such, it should be abolished. As a result of such views on prostitution, Sweden, Norway and Iceland have enacted laws which criminalize the clients of the prostitutes, but not the prostitutes themselves.

In contrast to the abolitionist view, those who are in favour of legalization do not consider the women who practice prostitution as victims, but as independent adult women who had made a choice which should be respected. Mariska Majoor, former prostitute and founder of the Prostitution Information Center, from Amsterdam, holds that: "In our [sex workers'] eyes it’s a profession, a way of making money; it’s important that we are realistic about this (...) Prostitution is not bad; it’s only bad if done against one’s will. Most women make this decision themselves.” According to proponents of regulation, prostitution should be considered a legitimate activity, which must be recognized and regulated, in order to protect the workers' rights and to prevent abuse. The prostitutes are treated as sex workers who enjoy benefits similar to other occupations. The World Charter for Prostitutes Rights (1985), drafted by the International Committee for Prostitutes’ Rights, calls for the decriminalisation of "all aspects of adult prostitution resulting from individual decision". Since the mid-1970s, sex workers across the world have organised, demanding the decriminalisation of prostitution, equal protection under the law, improved working conditions, the right to pay taxes, travel and receive social benefits such as pensions. As a result of such views on prostitution, countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand have fully legalized prostitution.

Sexual Discrimination happens to those who work both in sex work and forced prostitution. Historically, crimes involving violence against women and having to do with prostitution and sex work have been taken less seriously by the law. Although acts such as the Violence Against Women Act have been passed to take steps toward preventing such violence, there is still sexism rooted in the way that the legal system approaches these cases. Gender based violence is a serious form of discrimination that has slipped through many cracks in the legal system of the United States. These efforts have fallen short due to the fact that there is no constitutional protection for women against discrimination.

There is often no evidence, according to police, that when men are arrested for soliciting a prostitute that it is a gender based crime. However, there are large discrepancies between the arrests of prostitutes and the arrests of men caught in the act. While 70% of prostitution related arrests are of woman prostitutes, only 10% of related arrests are men/customers. Regardless if the girl or woman is either underage or forced into the exchange, she is still often arrested and victim blamed instead of being offered resources. The men who are charged with engaging in these illegal acts with woman who are prostitutes are able to pay for the exchange and therefore are usually able to pay for their release while the woman may not be able to. This generates a cycle of violence against women, as the situation’s outcome favors the man. In one case, a nineteen year-old woman in Oklahoma was charged with offering to engage in prostitution when the woman was known to have previously been a victim of human sex trafficking. She is an example of how the criminalization of prostitution often leads to women being arrested multiple times due to the fact that they are often punished or arrested even when the victim of a situation. Young women and girls have a much higher likelihood of getting arrested for prostitution than boys in general, and woman victims of human trafficking often end up being arrested upon multiple occasions, being registered as a sex offender, and being institutionalized.The lack of rehabilitation given to women after experiences with human sex trafficking contributes to the cycles of arrests that most woman who engage in prostitution face.

The ERA or Equal Rights Amendment is a proposed amendment to the U.S Constitution that has not yet been ratified. It would guarantee that equal rights could not be denied under the law on account of sex. With this amendment in place, it would allow for sex workers and victims of human sex trafficking to have legal leverage when it comes to the discrepancies in how men and women (customers and prostitutes) are prosecuted. This is due to the fact that there would be legal grounds to argue the unequal legal treatment on account of sex, which is not currently outlawed by the U.S constitution. Although there are other acts and laws that protect against discrimination based on a variety of categories and identities, they are often not substantial enough, provide loopholes, and do not offer adequate protection. This connects to liberal feminism and the more individualistic approach that comes with this theory. Liberal feminists believe that there should be equality between the sexes and this should be gained through equal legal rights, equal education, and women having "greater self value as individuals". This theory focuses on equality at a more individual level as supposed to rethinking legal systems themselves or systems of gender, just as the ERA works for the equality of sexes within an existing system.


In Europe, since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the former Eastern bloc countries such as Albania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have been identified as the major source countries for trafficking of women and children. Young women and girls are often lured to wealthier countries by the promises of money and work and then reduced to sexual slavery. It is estimated that two thirds of women trafficked for prostitution worldwide annually come from Eastern Europe and China, three-quarters of whom have never worked as prostitutes before. The major destinations are Western Europe, Turkey, the Middle East (Israel, the United Arab Emirates), Asia, Russia and the United States.


In Mexico, many criminal organisations lure, and capture women and use them in brothels. Once the women become useless to the organisations, they are often killed. Often, the criminal organisations focus on poor, unemployed girls, and lure them via job offerings (regular jobs), done via billboards and posters, placed on the streets. In some cities, like Ciudad Juárez, there is a high degree of corruption in all levels on the social ladder (police, courts, ...) which makes it more difficult to combat this criminal activity. Hotels where women are kept and which are known by the police are often also not raided/closed down by police. Nor are the job offerings actively investigated. Some NGO's such as Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa A.C. are trying to fight back, often without much success.

In the USA, 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 "[h]ere and abroad, the victims of trafficking toil under inhuman conditions – in brothels, sweatshops, fields and even in private homes." In addition to internationally trafficked victims, American citizens are also forced into prostitution. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, "100,000 to 293,000 children are in danger of becoming sexual commodities."

Middle East

Eastern European women are trafficked to several Middle Eastern countries, including Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Until 2004, Israel was a destination for human trafficking for the sex industry.

A high number of the Iraqi women fleeing the Iraq War are turning to prostitution, while others are trafficked abroad, to countries like Syria, Jordan, Egypt, 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 High prices are offered for virgins.


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. As of 2009, an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 people are trafficked through Southeast Asia, much of it for prostitution. 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. Further in Japan, prejudice and the absence of anti-discrimination acts often drive a transwoman into forced prostitution. In Cambodia at least a quarter of the 20,000 people working as prostitutes are children with some being as young as 5. By the late 1990s, UNICEF estimated that there are 60,000 child prostitutes in the Philippines, describing Angeles City brothels as "notorious" for offering sex with children.

For the last decade it has been estimated that 6,000 - 7,000 girls are trafficked out of Nepal each year. But these numbers have recently risen substantially. Current numbers for girls trafficked out of the country are now 10,000 to 15,000 yearly. This is compounded as the US Central Intelligence Agency states that most trafficked girls are currently worth, in their span as a sex-worker, approx $250,000 (USD) on the sex-trades market.

North Korea

The North Korean state engages in forced prostitution. Girls as young as 14 years old are drafted to work in the so-called kippŭmjo. Not all kippŭmjo work as prostitutes; the source used is unclear as to whether only adult women are assigned to prostitution, or whether there is prostitution of children. Other kippŭmjo activities are massaging and half-naked singing and dancing. According to the same source from April 2005, “60 to 70% of [North Korean] defectors [in the People's Republic of China] are women, 70 to 80% of whom are victims of human trafficking.” North Korean authorities severely punish or even kill repatriated prostitutes and kill their Chinese-fathered children, born and unborn alike.


Forced prostitution has existed throughout history.

Nazi Germany

Germany established brothels in the concentration camps for sexual gratification of collaborating prisoners. The prostitutes working there came from the Ravensbrück concentration camp, which was an all-female concentration camp.

Soldier's brothels (Wehrmachtsbordell) were usually organized in already established whorehouses or in hotels confiscated by the Germans. The women working there had mostly been prostitutes before or hired later, but no prisoners. The leaders of the Wehrmacht were interested in running their own brothels, when sexual disease spread among the soldiers. In the controlled brothels the women frequently had a medical check for her own and the German soldiers' benefit. On 29 July 1940 came the order to regulate the soldiers' sex life and prevent diseases. Now on, free prostitution was forbidden and persecuted by the French police.

Comfort women

Comfort women is a euphemism for women working in military brothels, especially by the Japanese military during World War II.

Around 200,000 are typically estimated to have been involved, with estimates as low as 20,000 from some Japanese scholars and estimates of up to 410,000 from some Chinese scholars, but the disagreement about exact numbers is still being researched and debated. Historians and researchers have stated that the majority were from Korea, China, Japan and Philippines but women from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, East Timor and other Japanese-occupied territories were also used in "comfort stations". Stations were located in Japan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, then Malaya, Thailand, then Burma, then New Guinea, Hong Kong, Macau, and what was then French Indochina.

Young women from countries under Japanese Imperial control were reportedly abducted from their homes. In some cases, women were also recruited with offers to work in the military. It has been documented that the Japanese military itself recruited women by force. However, Japanese historian Ikuhiko Hata stated that there was no organized forced recruitment of comfort women by the Japanese government or military.

The number and nature of comfort women servicing the Japanese military during World War II is still being actively debated, and the matter is still highly political in both Japan and the rest of the Far East Asia.

Many military brothels were run by private agents and supervised by the Korean Police. Some Japanese historians, using the testimony of ex-comfort women, have argued that the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy were either directly or indirectly involved in coercing, deceiving, luring, and sometimes kidnapping young women throughout Japan's Asian colonies and occupied territories.


Forced prostitution is prohibited in Islam.

And do not force your slave girls in prostitution, if they desire chastity, to get worldly benefit.

Al-Quran 24:33

International legislation

  • ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)
  • ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105)
  • ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)
  • ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)
  • References

    Forced prostitution Wikipedia

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