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Updated: Oct 24, 2019

“I was an ISIS sex slave. I tell my story because it is the best weapon I have.”[1]

Human trafficking is a global social issue which has its origin deep into the past. According to the UNICEF data of 2013, it has been said that the estimated income from human trafficking is 32 billion dollars. Human trafficking can be of numerous forms, like forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, and child soldiering. However among all this, the common of them is sex trafficking. It is the fastest-growing form worldwide as it is a market-driven industry based on demand and supply.[2]

According to Article 7(1)(g) of the Rome Statute, sexual slavery is a form of crime against humanity. [3] Along with this the Geneva Convention as well considers sexual slavery as a breach of the Convention. Sex slavery has been one of the oldest institutions which have been practiced across all nations of the world. The buying and selling of human beings were considered an integral part of national and international trade. It was on the basis of this that the economy of certain European countries developed. [4] However, its origin can be traced back to the days of the Greek and Roman civilizations and its wings spread to all parts of the world, like that of the Middle East and Asia and even India. During the Second World War, there have been multiple reports of women and children been made sex slaves of the German officers. Many prisoners of war were also made sex slaves.

As mentioned earlier sex slavery as a practice has been present since time immemorial. Slavery, correctly defined, is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.[5] During the times of the Second World War, the Japanese created ‘comfort stations’. However, it is to be remembered that International law prohibited slavery well before the Japanese army created "comfort stations" during World War II. Slavery as a concept is the deprivation of liberty, sexual autonomy is the power of a person to have control over their sexuality. The Japanese comfort system combined these controls and breached the freedom of their victims. Thus, it constituted a system of slavery that violated international law.[6] Comfort women were primarily women from other occupied countries who were forced to serve as sex slaves in the Japanese army in World War II. During the second world war, it was not only the Japanese who used sex slaves, but the use of sex slaves was prevalent in the Nazi regime as well. [7]

However, now we shift our focus to the present day, where in spite of there been multiple human rights movements and treaties, there exists sex slavery and in its worse form. And, although it is a very stereotypical point of view, it is indeed the Middle East which is most affected by the practice of sexual slavery. The Islamic State has captured hundreds of Yazidi women and kept them in prisons and exploited them to an unimaginable extent. These women were kept as sex slaves before being sold off to third parties. One Yazidi woman who has managed to flee from her captors has narrated her ordeal and stated that the ages of some of the girls were as young as fourteen years.

The victims of sexual slavery are as young as ten years and as old as seventy years of age. The stories of their ordeal will melt the coldest of hearts. This is the story of Tonya, one such girl whose peaceful life turned upside down. Tonya, a pseudonym, was thirteen years old when she met Eddie, also an alias in the apartment where she lived with her mother in Dallas, Texas. Tonya was friends with Eddie’s stepdaughter and hence they would often meet and eventually exchanged numbers. Then one night she ran into Eddie at a bar and they connected and it led her to move with him and begin a relationship. However, events took a bad turn, when one day Eddie told her to sleep with a man for money and after much persuasion she agreed, thinking this was a one-time situation. However, this continued to happen very frequently and it took a toll on Tonya’s physical and well as mental health. She was humiliated by numerous men and beaten and raped. Unlike, most victims, Tonya’s story had a happy ending for she was rescued and Eddie was sentenced to twelve years of prison. [8]

Another story is that of Nadia Murad. She is an ISIS sex slave survivor. Her ordeal began in 2014 when the militants arrived at her village and executed her mother and brothers and she along with many other unmarried women from the village were passed as sex slaves among the ISIS militants. She was raped and tortured until she got help from a muslim family and escaped the ISIS region.[9] Today, she is a recipient of the joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Denis Mukwege, "for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict".

The stories of Tonya and Nadia are two among millions. They were lucky enough to escape from the brutal world of sex slavery, but there are thousands of women as we speak who are fighting for their freedom. Sex slavery is the worst form of exploitation, for it injuries are not only physical , but more psychological and mental. The pleas of these women are slowly but surely reaching the ears of the all the nations and gradually help is being extended to bring them out from that world into the mainstream world and allow them to lead the life of an ordinary citizen.

“I know now , that you can’t put a price tag on a person. I’m worth more than just money. I am worthy of love, honour, respect and compassion.”

[1] Nadia Murad; Sex slave survivor.

[2] Experiences of Female Sex Trafficking Survivors: A Phenomenological Analysis ; Tetiana Sukach; Natali Gonzalez; Jaclyn Cravens Pickens; The Qualitative Report; Volume 23 | Number 6.

[3]For the purpose of this Statute, ‘crime against humanity’ means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack; (g) Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;

[4]Farhad Malekian; Principles of Islamic International Criminal Law; Slavery; A Comparative Search;

[5] Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery, Sept. 25, 1926, 60 U.N.T.S. 253 [hereinafter 1926 Slavery Convention].

[6]Carmen M. Argibay; Sexual Slavery and the Comfort Women of World War II; Berkeley Journal of International Law; Volume 21 | Issue 2;

[7] Jonathan Gould; Nazis Used Sex Slaves To Boost Camp Production; October 16, 2009; Reuters ;

[8] Human Trafficking Victim Shares Story; Official website of the Department of Homeland Security.

[9] Lianne Kolirin ; Nadia Murad, From ISIS Sex Slave To Global Human Rights Campaigner; October 5, 2018 CNN World ;

Thoughts of:

Nayantara Bhattacharyya,


Symbiosis Law School - Hyderabad.

All views are personal and the image used is for representative purposes only.


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