Concubinage was a traditional form of sexual slavery in many cultures, in which women spent their lives in sexual servitude.In some cultures, concubines and their children had distinct rights and legitimate social positions.
Opinion in places such as Europe has been divided over the question of whether prostitution should be considered as a free choice or as inherently exploitative of women.
The law in Sweden, Norway and Iceland – where it is illegal to pay for sex, but not to sell sexual services – is based on the notion that all forms of prostitution are inherently exploitative, opposing the notion that prostitution can be voluntary.
Child sex tourism results in both mental and physical consequences for the exploited children, that may include "disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and possibly death", according to the State Department of the United States.
Children are commonly purchased and sold for sexual purposes without the parents knowing.
Causes for forced marriages include customs such as bride price and dowry; poverty; the importance given to female premarital virginity; "family honor"; the fact that marriage is considered in certain communities a social arrangement between the extended families of the bride and groom; limited education and economic options; perceived protection of cultural or religious traditions; assisting immigration.
The Rome Statute Explanatory Memorandum, which defines the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, recognizes rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, "or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity" as crime against humanity if the action is part of a widespread or systematic practice.
The text of the Rome Statute does not explicitly define sexual enslavement, but does define enslavement as "the exercise of any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership over a person and includes the exercise of such power in the course of trafficking in persons, in particular women and children" (Article 7.2.c).
Sexual slavery is a particular form of enslavement which includes limitations on one's autonomy, freedom of movement and power to decide matters relating to one's sexual activity.
The Rome Statute (1998) (which defines the crimes over which the International Criminal Court may have jurisdiction) encompasses crimes against humanity (Article 7) which include "enslavement" (Article 7.1.c) and "sexual enslavement" (Article 7.1.g) "when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population".