Sexual Exploitation: Then and Now

The fear and presence of sexual exploitation, while much diminished, is still an atrocity that haunts populations of the world today. In the “Classic Slave Narratives”, the looming fear of sexual exploitation (among other brutalities) leads one female character to such great lengths as to hide out in an attic for seven years.

To further elaborate, Harriet Ann Jacobs, or Linda Brent (her pseudonym in her narrative), spend six years and eleven months in a crawl space that was “just enough room to bring [her] hands to [her] face to keep the dust out of [her] eyes” in order to avoid submitting sexually to her master Dr. Flint (the pseudonym for Dr. James Norcom)(515) In addition, she had to bear the heat of summer and the frigid winters all whilst observing her children (who are convinced that she has fled to the north). While it is true that the fear of sexual exploitation was not the sole driving force behind her motivation to hide herself, it is obvious in her fear of Dr. Flint that it has a significant impact. In fact, his voice alone is cited to chill her blood (515) Her extreme act does not outline the overwhelming effects of sexual exploitation.

It is an important to understand that during this time of slaverly in the United States, the sexual exploitation of slaves was sadly enough, somewhat expected from slaves; especially female slaves. Many slave masters expected affection from their female slaves and in many instances, slave owners would impregnate enslaved women for the sole purpose of birthing new workhands who could work on the fields once they reached age. Slave women were dehumanized to the point of being labeled “animated tools” or “instruments of pleasure.”(1)

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Now, fast-forward to today’s modern life. While cases of domestic violence still run rampant, the extreme (I say this with caution) enslavement, dehumanization and mistreatment of women is, comparatively, mostly absent in the United States. However, seeing as the United States is a small portion of our global community, there is still evidence of this extreme enslavement, dehumanization and mistreatment of women: In particular, in the Middle East. Syria is known as a “destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation” (2) Women are exploited by gangs and criminal organizations. They are stripped of their passports and identifications in order to trap them in the industry.

One criminal organization that has gained a lot of attention in the headlines is ISIS. While ISIS is primarily know for its terrorists acts, (A list of all the attacks can be seen here (Click here a list of ISIS related terrorist attacks) they are also linked to the exhibition of sex slaves and captives. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights, at the low end of the slave trade, “captive women are given prices ranging between $500 and $2,000 each. These women are sold at casual markets to IS militants and pedistrians alike who claim “Jihad marriage” for justification (3). According to a web article, over “7,000 young women and children have been kidnapped from their homes and sold into in a chilling new moneymaking operation by Islamic State Leaders. The state in which these women are treated is barbaric as seen in this video clip (click here for video).

The thought that enslavement, dehumanization and mistreatement of women was mostly curbed is false. In many parts of the world, women are stripped of their human rights and sold into a life of slavery and abuse.







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13 Responses to Sexual Exploitation: Then and Now

  1. alxtower says:

    I think citing the atrocities being committed by ISIS really demonstrates how far we truly are from securing human rights for women. ISIS has dehumanized women to a point very comparable with that of American slavery. Like American slave holders, ISIS has twisted their religion so they can justify their actions. And women and children are sold with no concern over breaking up families. The risk of enslavement is not the only risk to modern women either. In several countries around the world, women are still treated as second-class citizens, with very few opportunities to vote, hold political office, or even participate in certain industries. This post is a great reflection of the reality that we don’t always acknowledge in the United States.

  2. iramsey918 says:

    Great post! It is important to realize that sexual exploitation has not died out over the years; it has simply gone underground making it even harder to detect. This is why it is more important than ever to be aware of sex crimes and sex slave trafficking and you made an excellent point of how prominent it really is. Sex slave trades are alive and well all over the world but especially in areas such as Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. In the past few years our attention has been drawn to the Middle East as terrorist organizations and their deploring acts have dominated the news. Their “Jihadists” have not only made use of the sex slave trade to procure “wives” but have also made a point of recruiting them. Taking to social media ISIS has lured young women from around the world to leave their homes and join ISIS. However upon arrival they find it is not the fun, accepting paradise they were led to believe; surprise they’re now forced to serve these terrorists in slavery. It is a deplorable and disgusting trade that unfortunately does not receive the attention in the media that it should. Thus it is important to raise awareness so that young women do not fall into the traps of these terrorists. Thank you for posting.

  3. mike65965 says:

    This reality is something that has taken place in human civilization throughout history. When men have sole power and women are allowed to be seen as second class citizens rape and abuse follows. Democracy once it reached the point in this country to include women has been the best way to empower women and create laws to stop mistreatment. I know that we have a ways to go still to reach a goal of women being free from mistreatment even in our own country. I do have hope though that Democracy and equal respect of women as a culture will continue to improve these situations around the world if we continue to fight for it.

  4. ricquelln says:

    Your post is a scary reality that we are experiencing at the moment in society. It is fearful to hear all the things ISIS, and other middle eastern terrorists groups, do to women. Even in the U.S. women were sex slaves, during slavery; nowadays some women are trapped in marriages due to arranged marriages, or even in domestic abusive situations. I am surprised that with democracy there still are situations of sexual exploitation, but maybe we just have not made enough progress to make those changes. With that said, I do hope that we continue to strive for progress and do not fall back to the times where women were just seen as sex objects.

  5. iannukem says:

    It is an unfortunate reality that when America abolished slavery after the Civil War that it was not a global edict. What is even more unfortunate is the continued sexual exploitation of women, and while groups like ISIS in the Middle East are exploiting women openly and preaching it, the sexual exploitation still occurs in the U.S.
    While the effects of rampant sexual abuse and degradation of slave women can still be seen today in how black women are stereotyped in our society, there are thousands of women growing up today who have been sexually abused and exploited. These women, like Jacobs, live in constant fear (PTSD) and will subject themselves to much worse than a crawlspace for a chance to escape. This problem is still a U.S. problem as much as it is a global problem, so where do we start to fix it? Is this a change that comes from the Institutions of governmental power or do we help women like Jacobs of yesteryear and the women of today through local community support? The stories recounted by Jacobs are ones that we should strive not to repeat, and I think it falls to us, as our duty as citizens, to do what we can to fight injustice and stand up for the exploited.

  6. nicmccaleb says:

    iannukem, I like your comment and agree that it is our duty as citizens to fight the injustice that is sexual abuse and exploitation. In too many cases of sexual abuse, a third party has the ability to warn or stop an act of this nature. I think that every citizen has the responsibility to speak up if they see the signs of sexual exploitation. This is a very prominent issue for all of us as college students. The social scene that is connected with college campuses leads to many instances where sexual exploitation occurs. I think our school does a pretty good job at creating a safe environment yet we still hear about instances of sexual misconduct against females. This proves that the institution itself cannot prevent this issue and that the responsibility to stop these acts falls on the individual.

  7. trose91 says:


    Great post! In this class we have mainly focused on issues in America, I think it is great that you touched on a subject that is an international problem. I agree with you that women in other countries are currently be treated in way which mirrors american slavery. Although, America has made progress by ending slavery, and implementing laws that protect women from from abuse (physically and sexually), we have still not eliminated the abuse. I understand the point that you were making and I completely respect it. I personally just feel as we have must never discredit the fact that abuse is abuse no matter how serious it is. I attached a video below that states that at least 1 in 4 women in America face abuse from their partner. Overall, I did enjoy your post. Thanks for sharing.

    -Very Respectfully,

    Taundra Rose

  8. jtoombs51 says:

    This is a wonderful exploration into the need of the global community to take further steps towards solving the problems of slavery, and sexual exploitation.

    While I certainly do not want to ignore the atrocities committed by the Islamic States with their female sex slaves, I do want to discuss the state of sexual violence and exploitation in the United States.

    Beyond domestic violence itself, the United States still suffers from a high level of sexual assault in most facets of life, especially for women. This gets to the point you made regarding the “expectation of affection” from women. While the women now are not slaves in the United States, many men expect something in the same nature. There have been a number of articles published recently, and many organizations dedicating resources towards making this a less prominent issue in the workplace especially, but there are still many problems arising. Many women (and men) who have been sexually assaulted in their childhoods face the fear of coming forward against their accusers for many years, and when they finally find the courage, the case is past the statute of limitations.

    Recently, this reminds me of the disaster regarding the former Mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson. He is being accused of sexual assault by many former employees/volunteers, and many of them have been ignored because of his influence in the community.

    All in all, this was a wonderful post, and serves as a great reminder for what society still needs to do. Well done!.

    PS: Here is a recent piece done regarding the Kevin Johnson scandal:

  9. sbain2016 says:

    Good analysis of the abuse committed against females during slavery, and then you tied conditions today nicely into the post. I would like to add some more in depth discussion about abuse. A study I recently read, examined marriage dependency and the likelihood of abuse. See link The findings are pretty interesting and relate well to our discussions about women’s independence. The study found that women who do not work ,and are entirely dependent on their husbands are more likely to suffer severe abuse at the hands of their husband. This data presents a serious argument for women’s independence. In the case of slavery this makes perfect sense. The white masters set the system up so the African women were dependent on them for every necessity of life. With all of the power in their hands, the slave masters knew these women had little choice but to submit, or face the likelihood of death. I agree with Rose that conditions today are very different for women, and would add that the ability to earn money and be self-sufficient is critical for women to escape abusive relationships and assert independence. To me this study provides more evidence for Shklar’s argument that the right to earn is a key part of freedom and citizenship.

    Kalmuss, D., & Straus, M. (1982). Wife’s marital dependency and wide abuse. Journal of Marriage and Family, 44(2) 277-286.

  10. jfavila says:

    Good post. While I know that not everyone is the same I feel that many people in the U.S. are often not aware of just what is going on in the rest of the world. It is a sad reality that women everywhere still aren’t equal to men in much of the world even the U.S. doesn’t provide complete equality to women. Within the U.S rape still remains an issue here’s some data on it although I do realize that women are not always the victims it is one of the things women face. Among other things there is lower pay for women in the U.S., domestic violence, and sexual harassment. Women still struggle in the U.S. today and it is something that should be addressed

  11. chrsm1 says:

    Great post, it was really good to know more about the sexual exploitation during slavery, but at the same time, it’s really upsetting to realize that women all around the world still suffer some kind of abuse by men and until now women are not recognized as equal compared to men. Women do not only suffer sexual exploitation, but prejudice of many kinds in our daily lives, we don’t need to go as far as the middle east to see women exploitation. In America, we can see everyday on the news, sexual and psychological abuses in relation to women, and even with feminist movements and government programs of women’s protection, cases of abuse are frequently reported.

  12. nshah210 says:

    There are some concerns that are being raised that I think are extremely important in today’s societies I would say that we don’t hear many of these concerns in the United States, but in the Middle East and Asian countries, I feel like this in a huge issue. I know that in India, many women are suppressed by males with higher authority not to say that they were raped and sexually harassed. Even if we look to the Middle East, the same goes for when the Taliban was in charge of Afghanistan and how they publicly humiliated women and beat them to death. I just think that the issue of sexual exploitation is a really serious issue that progressing countries are not taking the measures to protect women and make changes to their laws to help enforce the benefits to women’s rights rather than suppressing them.

  13. ethanmolinar says:

    I found this post informative and especially appreciated all the research you did regarding ISIS. I felt your comparison between ISIS and the American South during slavery was compelling. Your post did a very good job of educating me about the evils of ISIS and the dangers of sexual exploitation. I think its easy to ignore things that are unseemly and don’t effect our day to day lives. To me this serves as a reminder that just because we abolished slavery in America doesn’t mean it is abolished everywhere.

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