and Abuse of Women and Girls’ Sexuality
control and abuse of women and girls’ sexuality creates and maintains
women’s oppression all over the world. Men hold the important decision
making positions in all social, political and religious institutions
that organize and control society. Through this institutional power, men
construct culture, pass laws, and enact policies that serve their
interests and give themselves the power to control women and children in
public and private spheres. Men’s definition and control of female
sexuality constructs and regulates women and girls’ sexual activity. Voluntary,
as well as involuntary, violations of society’s man-made rules mark
women as tainted and immoral, and bring dishonor to the family.
and Exploitation--Complementary Forms of Control and Abuse
and exploitation are different, but complementary, forms of control and
abuse of female sexuality. Women and girls’ sexuality is repressed by
strict control on sexual activity through such customs as placing a
premium on girls’ virginity, basing family honor on the sexual control
of daughters and wives, exacting severe punishment for adultery,
preventing equal access to divorce, and segregating girls and women from
boys and men.
religions, which mold most of the cultures of the world, subordinate
women and girls to men. Fundamentalist movements, whether Christian,
Jewish, Hindu or Islamic, advocate the repression of women and girls’
sexuality. Women and girls’ interaction with men and boys is closely
monitored and restricted and their bodies and hair covered in a way
deemed to be modest. For example, under the influence of Islamic
fundamentalism, women are required to wear full body coverings, such as
chadors and burqas. Punishment for sexual misconduct can be severe, as
in Iran, where women can be legally stoned to death.
other form of control and abuse of women’s sexuality is exploitation,
in which women and girls are used for men’s sexual gratification or
profit. Women and children are sexually exploited when they are
subjected to incest, rape, sexual harassment, battering, bride
trafficking, pornography, and prostitution.
In private, all forms of sexual exploitation
exist all over the world. The public sexual exploitation of women and
children is more varied; in some places it is actively suppressed, while
elsewhere it is legalized or regulated.
repression and exploitation of women and girls’ sexuality often occur
simultaneously. For example, in Iran under fundamentalist rule,
women’s activities in the public are segregated from men and full body
coverings are required. At the same time, fundamentalists worsened
sexual exploitation by lowering the age of marriage for girls from 18 to
9, and renewing the practice of temporary marriage, in which a man can
marry a woman for as short a period as one hour, allowing a state
sanctioned form of prostitution.
often use the repression and exploitation of women and girls to
represent their political victories and power. For example, with the
rise of Islamic fundamentalism, victory over Western influence is
measured by the level of repression imposed on women, as happened in
Iran and Afghanistan. In other cases, victories over state control and
censorship are celebrated by availability of pornography, as happened in
the Soviet Union during perestroika, or the United Arab Emirates when
the Internet is used to access pornography.
and Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation
is not the world’s oldest profession, as is commonly said, although it
is probably one of the world’s oldest forms of men’s violence
against women and girls. It seems old because men’s sexual
exploitation of women and children is ancient and defended as a part of
men’s natures that they have to have sex, even if it is purchased,
forced or with a child. Prostitution is not natural or inevitable; it is
abuse and exploitation of women and girls that results from structural
inequality between women and men on a world scale. Prostitution
commodifies women and girls and markets their bodies for whatever acts
men have sexualized and want to buy. Rarely are adult men treated this
majority of girls enter prostitution before they have reached the age of
consent. Each year for the past decade, the average age of girls in
prostitution has declined, especially in Asia and Africa where men have
created a demand for young girls, assuming they are free of HIV. Girls
are sold into prostitution by relatives. Pimps recruit them after they
run away from home. They enter prostitution after enduring incest, abuse
and rape by acquaintances, which accommodates them to violence and
exploitation until eventually they think this is their role in life.
desperation to support family members, and drug addictions compel women
into prostitution. When the social infrastructure collapses as a result
of war, famine, and economic crisis women turn to prostitution as a last
matter how women and girls get into prostitution, it is difficult to get
out. Pimps and brothel owners use violence, threats, and addictions to
drugs and alcohol to control the woman, sometimes keeping them in
slavery-like conditions. Often women can leave prostitution only after
they are used-up, become ill, and no longer make money for the pimps.
Women in prostitution are further burdened with a stigmatized identity
that is impossible to escape, unless their pasts are kept a secret.
is no dignity in prostitution. Many of the acts of prostitution,
including those that are photographed in the making of pornography, are
intended to degrade, humiliate and express domination over women. They
are acts of misogyny, not respect or affection, and have nothing to do
with love or intimacy. Women don’t emerge from sexual exploitation
into positions of power, respect or admiration. They remain powerless as
individuals and an underclass as a group.
laws aimed at suppressing prostitution are based on the sexually
repressive doctrines of patriarchal religions that view prostitution as
immoral activity, with women being the most immoral participants. In
this view, men give in to the temptation offered by immoral women. Men
have traditionally condemned prostitution in public, while ensuring its
continuation in private. Where prostitution is illegal, it is usually
the women who are punished; pimps, traffickers, and men who buy women in
prostitution are seldom punished. Being bought, sold and enslaved in
prostitution is a condition for which women and children can be
arrested, imprisoned, deported, and sometimes executed.
is the practice that delivers women and children into sexual
exploitation. The number of women trafficked for this purpose is
unknown, although conservative estimates put the number in the millions.
Women do not voluntarily put themselves in situations where they are
exploited, beaten, raped and enslaved. Women do not traffic themselves.
Criminals who recruit, buy and sell women and girls are the crucial
intermediaries for delivering women into prostitution. Traffickers
supply the necessary elements for travel, such as money, documents, and
connections in other countries. Traffickers are paid a sum of money for
each woman and girl they deliver to a brothel or pimp. They use force,
coercion, seduction, deception, and any other techniques that are
effective in controlling the women and girls they are trading.
traffic women and girls within borders, from rural areas to cities, and
from town to town on circuits to provide new faces and bodies to men who
want variety. They traffic them to large sex industry centers for
men’s nightlife entertainment, to migrant labor camps for men’s
hometown comfort, and to immigrant communities to provide sex for men
who want women from their own nationality. They traffic them to rural
areas for farmers who want wives, and to the US, Australia and Western
Europe for men who want non-feminist wives.
Sexual Exploitation--Supply and Demand Markets
Prostitution and trafficking in women and children
are global phenomena. They occur all over the world and the activities
are carried out transnationally. There is a global culture of sexual
exploitation in which women’s bodies are used to market consumer
products and where women and girls themselves are products to be
consumed. Currently, the global sex industry is estimated to make US$52
billion dollars a year. To keep the sex industry in business, women are
trafficked to, from and through every region in the world. The value of
this global trade in women as commodities for sex industries is
estimated to be between seven and twelve billion dollars annually.
The global sexual exploitation of women and girls is
a supply and demand market. Men create the demand and women are the
Cities and countries where men’s demand for women in prostitution is
legalized or tolerated are the receiving sites, while countries and
areas where traffickers easily recruit women are the sending regions.
Sending countries or regions are characterized by
poverty, unemployment, war, and political and economic instability.
These conditions facilitate the activity of traffickers who target
regions where recruiting victims is easy. In sending countries, such as
Vietnam, the rise of consumerism has led families to accept loans for
material goods from traffickers in exchange for the of use their
daughters. In many parts of Asia, daughters are culturally bound to
repay their families for their up bringing, and a daughter in the sex
industry is sometimes the main financial support for families in
impoverished areas. Women and girls become vulnerable to traffickers as
a result of family pressure, poverty, family violence, and community
conflicts. Traffickers procure women and girls when their families say,
“Go,” or when women say to themselves, “Anything is better than
In receiving countries or sites where men’s demand
for women and girls in prostitution exceeds the supply in the local
area, women and girls must be recruited and imported. Sex industries use
up women, physically and emotionally, necessitating fresh supplies of
women, which keeps the trafficking of women so profitable.
Criminals and organized crime groups have always been
the organizers and moneymakers of the sex industry. In the United
States, they were the founders and controllers of the pornography
industry for decades. Sex industries contribute to secondary illegal
activity, such as money laundering, which is needed to convert illegal
cash into useable funds. The criminal networks that traffic women are
fully transnational. Some are composed of a few loosely connected
individuals, while others are highly organized crime syndicates, such as
the Mafia, the Yakuza, Triads and “Russian” crime groups.
The Internet has become a site for the global sexual
exploitation of women and children. In the past five years, sex
industries have been the leaders in opening up the Internet for
business. The Internet is almost without regulation because its
international reach has made local and national laws and standards
either obsolete or unenforceable. In addition, governments, such as the
United States, decided on a “hands-off” policy to allow the sex
industry almost unfettered operation on the Internet. With new types of
technology, pornographers have introduced new ways to exploit and abuse
women. With the techniques of videoconferencing, live sex shows are
broadcast in which men dictate the performances of the women.
In 1999, the revenue from pornography and live sex
shows on the Internet was US$1 billion dollars and comprised 69 percent
of the Internet content sales. Pornographers in the United States
garnered a majority of the money. By the year 2003, these sales are
predicted to triple and generate half the revenue of online content
Intense competition on the Internet has led
pornographers to attract buyers with more extreme images, such as
bondage, torture, bestiality and child pornography, leading to increased
violence against women and children as more degrading and violent
images, videos and live performances are made and marketed. Last year,
an American in Phnom Penh, Cambodia set up a live video chat site to
broadcast the pay-per-view rape and torture of women.
Harm of Sexual Exploitation – From the Individual to the State
sexual exploitation is a human rights crisis for women and girls. It is
also a crisis for democracy and the security of nations. The harm of
sexual exploitation extends from the individual to the state.
rape-like sex acts of prostitution cause harm to women and girls’
bodies and minds. Women contract sexually transmitted and other
infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis. They suffer from
post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety. Under these conditions
women make the best choices they can. Rarely do these choices approach
true consent. With few options, women comply in hope that eventually
they will earn enough money to buy their way out of debt bondage or find
a way to escape. When escape is not possible, they use drugs and alcohol
to numb themselves from the emotional distress and assaults to their
dignity and bodily integrity. Most women and girls emerge from
prostitution ill, traumatized, and as poor as when they entered. For
increasing numbers of women and girls, prostitution is a death sentence
when they contract HIV. In some regions, more than fifty percent of
prostituted women have HIV/AIDS.
sex industry targets and consumes young women, usually under age 25.
When a state permits prostitution or trafficking to flourish a certain
portion of each generation of young women will be lost. Some might argue
that prostitution is the work of women, a way of making a living unique
to their gender, but in fact, prostitution is the position the dominant
class puts the subordinate class into, in order to use them as they
desire. Prostitution creates an underclass of women whose purpose is to
sexually serve men. It is a degraded status, everywhere. No form of
sexual exploitation leads to the liberation or empowerment of women, or
enhances the rights or status of women.
and trafficking are extreme forms of gender discrimination and exist as
a result of the powerlessness of women as a class. Sexual exploitation
is more than an act; it is a systematic way to abuse and control women
that socializes and coerces women and girls until they comply, take
ownership of their own subordinate status, and say, “I choose this.”
and trafficking restrict women’s freedom and citizenship rights. If
women are treated as commodities, they are consigned to second-class
citizenship. No state can be a true democracy, if half of its citizens
can potentially be treated as commodities.
addition to harming the individual and creating an underclass of women,
trafficking and prostitution operate through criminal activity and
corruption that threaten the stability and security of nations. Due to
relatively low risk and high profits, the trade in women is increasingly
replacing the trade in drugs and arms as the preferred activity of
transnational criminal networks. When officials are bribed or
collaborate, they use their authority to protect criminals and profit
from the sexual exploitation of women. As the influence of criminal
networks on law enforcement and governments deepens, the corruption goes
beyond occasionally ignoring illegal activity to providing protection by
blocking legislation that would hinder the activities of the traffickers
and pimps. As corruption and collaboration increase, the line between
the state and the criminal networks starts to blur. This merging of
criminal networks and government has occurred in many of the former
Soviet republics, which are the major suppliers of women to the brothels
of Europe. Reports from the Netherlands, Germany and Australia, indicate
that legalized prostitution does not solve these problems, but leads to
increased prostitution, trafficking and organized crime.
to Sexual Exploitation
women and girls are to live in this world with dignity and equality,
their bodies and emotions must belong to them alone. They cannot be
commodities to be bought and sold. The sexual exploitation of women is
justified or condemned by so many different perspectives and ideologies
it is difficult to get people to see and understand the harm to women,
individually and as a class.
is a double battle to be fought against the abuse and control of women
and girls’ sexuality. The first is against the repression of women and
girls’ sexuality; the second is against the exploitation of women and
girls’ sexuality. In the case of prostitution, the challenge is to end
the discrimination for being in prostitution, while at the same time,
ending the oppression of being used in prostitution. To do this we need
to decriminalize prostitution for women, so the state is no longer
punishing women for being exploited and abused. We need services that
assist victims who are suffering from trauma, poor health, and physical
injuries. States need to provide assistance to women and girls in the
form of shelters, hotlines and advocates.
the same time, we have to oppose the legalization and regulation of
prostitution and trafficking, which allow women to be exploited and
abused under state determined conditions, and the decriminalization of
pimping, trafficking and buying women in prostitution. We must focus
more attention on the legitimacy of the demand by men to sexually
exploit women and girls. We have to hold the criminals and perpetrators
accountable for the harm they do.
addition to ending the harm to women and girls, successful opposition to
sexual exploitation offers countries of the world a breakthrough for
global justice and democracy. Successful prosecutions of individuals and
criminal networks that traffic and pimp women will eliminate a
signification portion of transnational organized crime and corruption
that are destabilizing governments all over the world.