Addressing Vulnerabilities to Sexual Exploitation - Equality Now

Addressing Vulnerabilities to Sexual Exploitation

The intersecting inequality, discrimination, and poverty disproportionately experienced by women, girls, marginalized racial, ethnic, and socially excluded communities, migrants, and LGBTQ+ people leave them at greater risk of sexual exploitation.

Why is this a feminist issue?

“If I’m a black woman, I have some disadvantages because I’m a woman and some disadvantages because I’m black. But I also have some disadvantages specifically because I’m [a] black woman, which neither black men nor white women have to deal with. That’s intersectionality; race, gender, and every other way to be disadvantaged interact with each other.”
- Kimberlé Crenshaw

Women and girls face systemic inequality and discrimination which often stems from inequality in the law. Their experiences are determined by intersectionalities including, but not limited to:

  • age
  • caste
  • ethnicity
  • gender
  • interactions with the criminal justice system
  • mental, intellectual and/or physical capacity
  • nationality/citizenship status
  • poverty
  • race
  • religion
  • sexuality
  • social class
  • socioeconomic status

Equality Now recognizes:

  • the struggle of all marginalized genders against the patriarchy and discrimination, and for equality and human rights.
  • the patriarchal gender binaries that create systemic barriers to resources, opportunity, services, and respect for women and girls cause and exacerbate the same barriers for LGBTQ+ individuals, manifesting as homophobia and discrimination
  • socioeconomic status, typically defined by a combination of one’s financial income, level of education, occupation, and access to property and resources, affects an individual’s opportunities and outcomes. The intersection of socioeconomic status and gender discrimination leaves girls and women most affected. For example, according to a 2017 Oxfam report, globally women earn 24 percent less than men. Women are also less likely to be in paid work in the first place. This gendered poverty is not limited to developing countries. In the UK following prolonged policies of austerity by the government, the Women’s Budget Group together with the Runnymede Trust found that tax and benefit changes have hit the poorest hardest, women harder than men, and black and ethnic minority women hardest of all.
  • citizenship status, and specifically statelessness, can create systemic and social barriers that keep women and girls from thriving and realizing their rights. Lack of citizenship can also increase girls’ and women’s vulnerability to human rights abuses, forced marriage, and commercial sexual exploitation.
  • discriminatory immigration policies and inefficient systems place migrant women and girls at a higher risk of certain types of violence and exploitation than their male counterparts. Migrant women’s and girls’ experiences of racism, sexual violence, unsafe working conditions, and gender-based violence are often directly related to or exacerbated by their immigration status and their lack of rights or access to justice.
  • racism, and the racist underpinnings of laws, policies, and systems, change the way marginalized racial communities experience the world.
  • practicing a religion or belonging to a religious group can cause or exacerbate specific types of discrimination against women and girls.
  • the caste system affects and oppresses women and girls since they face intersectional discrimination both from society and while accessing the justice system.
  • people may experience specific disadvantages due to the intersection of age with other aspects of their identity, including their gender.
  • women and girls with disabilities may be more vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion and often have limited social, political and economic opportunities and lack of access to basic services. They may also be at greater risk of sexual and physical violence and abuse. Girls with disabilities often experience discrimination, for example in accessing education and enjoying family life.
  • interactions with the criminal justice system can leave people more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
Sexual Freedom

Equality Now believes that everyone should be able to live safe, fearless and free and enjoy sexual freedom.

Such freedom means the freedom from having to rely on sex for survival, especially sex that puts you at risk of violence or even death. It means the freedom to make welcome choices, free from any exploitation or coercion that is driven by inequality. We also believe that women should be able to freely participate in consensual sexual relations in a way that enhances their pleasure and self-esteem. This includes freedom from repressive and stereotyping norms about female sexuality.

What is Equality Now doing to address vulnerabilities to sexual exploitation?
  • We advocate for laws and policies that address the intersecting vulnerabilities faced by women and girls and other marginalized genders, particularly those that leave them more likely to live in poverty.
  • We hold governments accountable for their part in failing to end poverty and therefore facilitating vulnerability to sexual exploitation.
  • We advocate that governments consider all law, policymaking, and budgeting through a gender equality and anti-poverty lens from the start.
  • We stand in solidarity with expert organizations that advocate for the human rights of all people marginalized by patriarchal structures.
  • We advocate for laws that criminalize all forms of sexual acts that are not based on consent and voluntary participation, including rape, in line with international human rights standards.


Learn more about: 

Sexual exploitation 

Trafficking for sexual exploitation

Addressing vulnerabilities 

The role of technology 

Legal approaches

Sexual exploitation in travel and tourism

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