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International Book Review: Selected Review from PsycCRITIQUES on Sexual Enslavement of Girls and Women Worldwide

Sexual Enslavement of Girls and Women Worldwide describes the enormous and worldwide scope of the problem of sexual slavery as well as the types of sexual slavery by culture and country.

By Danny Wedding, PhD

The book reviews reprinted here are courtesy of PsycCRITIQUES editor, Danny Wedding. PsycCRITIQUES is an online journal that has replaced Contemporary Psychology and that provides reviews of books, monographs, films and other productions in psychology, and includes a data base with PsycCRITIQUES and Contemporary Psychology reviews stretching back to 1956. Readers can also access selected reviews and discuss books important to the science and profession of psychology by visiting the PsycCRITIQUES blog. For more information, please visit PsycCRITIQUES. If you are interested in reviewing please contact editor Danny Wedding by e-mail.

Never Again. Again.
A review of Sexual Enslavement of Girls and Women Worldwide by Andrea Parrot and Nina Cummings; Westport, CT: Praeger Publishing, 2008. 177 pp. ISBN 978-0-275-99291-0.
Reviewed by Amy J. Bacharach.

In 1945, after World War II, we as a global society said “Never again” to genocide. In 1979, after the genocide in Cambodia, we said “Never again” again. In 1994 and 1995, after genocide, mass rape, and sexual slavery were used as weapons of war in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, respectively, we said “Never again” again. For the past 10 years we’ve also been saying “Never again” about the genocide, mass rape, and sexual enslavement and torture of women and girls in Darfur. As a society, we don’t seem to be doing too well in preventing and eradicating the misogyny and patriarchy that cause power inequalities and other injustices between women and men. Although international treaties were adopted to outlaw the trade of women in 1904 (International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic), 1910 (Suppression of the White Slave Trade Convention, also known as the Mann Act), and 1926 (Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery), girls and women continue to be bought and sold all over the world.

Rape and sexual enslavement date as far back as the Greek and Roman empires. According to The City Edition (2007),“Greeks were famous for carting off young women after battles” and in Rome, “while most men toiled as laborers, girls and women were more likely to be channeled into entertainment avenues” (p. 1). Much later, during World War II, the Japanese military trafficked girls and women across the Pacific as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers, an atrocity for which the Japanese government continues to refuse to officially apologize (Onishi, 2007). Not long after that, brothels were set up to service American soldiers in Vietnam and across Southeast Asia. In the years since, trafficking of girls and women has become a lucrative and booming business. Unlike drugs or guns, which can be sold only once, sexual services can be sold and resold any number of times (Tiefenbrun, 2002). The girls and women who are forced to perform these sexual services are typically manipulated into traveling with their torturers across multiple state and country lines where language and other barriers keep them from gaining their freedom.

Sexual Enslavement of Girls and Women Worldwide describes the enormous and worldwide scope of the problem of sexual slavery as well as the types of sexual slavery by culture and country. The authors also chronicle the harrowing personal stories of survival of victims of sexual slavery and detail the attempts to reduce sexual slavery through legislation and culturally sensitive initiatives. They eloquently note that “sexual exploitation of women for sexual pleasure and profit supersedes women’s worth as human beings” (p. xi) and describe how various cultures exploit women. Although many books on women’s rights either dismiss or simply do not mention cultural traditions, the authors of Sexual Enslavement of Girls and Women Worldwide make a point to address these traditions. They artfully point out, “To argue that something is right, in light of the physical or mental trauma it causes to women (sometimes even death), simply because of cultural tradition is not a worthy argument” (p. xii) and “there are certain universal truths that condemn women’s sexual enslavement regardless of cultural explanations” (p. xii).

The use of personal stories interwoven throughout the description of the problems illustrates poignantly the extent of the problem and how exactly it affects all of our lives. The authors point out that the public health costs, as well as many other costs to society, are greater than we can imagine.

The authors also address the use of rape as a weapon of war, which is a relatively recent phenomenon, ritual and religious-based sexual slavery, forced marriage, sexual servitude, and sex tourism. Personal accounts from sex tourists illustrate how their delusions contribute to the problem. In one example, a retired schoolteacher from the United States explains how he was helping the young girls with whom he had sex because, if they were not selling sex, they might not have enough to eat. The stories show that, despite the propaganda delivered by the sex tourism trade, any girl who is delivering sexual services is exploited and abused. The conclusion of each chapter discusses recommendations for reducing the problems highlighted in that chapter.

Although the authors dedicate a section of the book to discussing attempts to reduce sexual slavery, they also point out,

Laws alone will do little to stop the highly profitable forms of prostitution that many Third World Governments now rely on. These practices will come to an end only through efforts that regard trafficking as a human rights concern, that give comprehensive attention to the conditions that support trafficking, and that criminalize the purchasing of sexual services. (p. 35)

The authors suggest that the only way to reduce trafficking is by addressing the “underlying ideologies that drive the practices, such as patriarchy, greed, the devaluation of women and girls, illiteracy, and poverty” (p. 88) and by addressing the problem on a macro level: “Laws or programs that work in just one country or region will not stop the trafficking and sexual slavery, they will merely reallocate the problem” (p. 88). Any initiative, however well intentioned, cannot be effective if it is not taken seriously or enforced.

American cities have become major centers for trafficked girls and women; San Francisco is among the largest commercial hub for sex trafficking in the country (May, 2006). The United States, however, is one of a few countries yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. While we wait with bated breath for a Senate that will brave any argument against the Convention, hundreds of thousands of girls and women will continue to be trafficked, exploited, tortured, and raped in the heart of America, in addition to other countries all over the world. The authors of Sexual Enslavement of Girls and Women Worldwide ask, “Now that we know, what will we do?” (p. xiv). History indicates that the answer may unfortunately be nothing. Again. Ψ


City Edition. (2007). A short history of sexual slavery. Retrieved December 14, 2008, from

May, M. (2006, October 6). Sex trafficking: San Francisco is a major center for international crime networks that smuggle and enslave. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 14,
2008, from

Onishi, N. (2007, March 17). Japan repeats denial of role in World War II sex slavery. New York Times. Retrieved December 14, 2008, from

Tiefenbrun, S. W. (2002). Sex sells but drugs don’t talk: Trafficking of women sex workers. Thomas Jefferson Law Review, 24, 180–185.Ψ