End Sex Trafficking - Equality Now

End Sex Trafficking

The intersecting inequality, discrimination, and poverty disproportionately experienced by women, girls and other marginalized people leave them at greater risk of sexual exploitation.

Sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse. It is when someone abuses or attempts to abuse another person’s vulnerability or their own position of power or trust for sexual purposes. They may benefit from the exploitation of the other person through making money, political or social gains, or in other ways. Sexual exploitation occurs on a continuum that includes many forms of coercion and predatory actions including trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

“Sexual exploitation and abuse has no place in our world. It is a global menace and it must end.”

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General (2017-present)

Sexual exploitation is a global issue 

Sexual exploitation occurs on a continuum that includes many forms of coercion and predatory actions including:

The idea of the continuum does not mean a hierarchy of seriousness or severity but reflects the continuum of complex and interlinked experiences of sexual exploitation in people’s lives.

People who are exploited may be given things, including drugs, money, gifts, status, and affection in exchange for performing sexual activities. They may trust their abuser or believe they are in a consensual relationship. Abusers may use violence or intimidation to make the person believe they have no choice.

Millions of people across the world suffer grave human rights violations as a result of trafficking and millions more as a result of the wider continuum of exploitation. The majority of the victims are women and girls. ^

Sexual exploitation is a feminist issue

We do not live in an equal society. We live in a patriarchy, which is inherently unequal.

People are especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation through intersecting inequalities arising from:

  • 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
  • socio-economic status

Those who exploit or attempt to exploit others are directly or indirectly taking advantage of the gender and structural discrimination inherent in our patriarchal society, and the consequential economic inequality faced by women and other vulnerable people, for the sake of their personal sexual gratification, entitlement, and often profit.

Equality Now believes that everyone should be able to live safe, fearless and free. For us, this means the freedom from having to rely on sex for survival and that no one is risking their lives because of sex.

Our efforts are focused on women and girls, and we are also committed to building solidarity with a diversity of other actors as we each seek to end the sexual exploitation of all people. Together we must identify the ecosystem of laws and legal practices that enable and allow sexual exploitation to continue with impunity, and work to change them. ^

Sexual exploitation and the law

International human rights law protects a person’s right to be free from exploitation. These treaties and standards include:

By ratifying international human rights treaties, States commit to putting in place national legislation compatible with their treaty obligations and duties. To fulfill their human rights obligations, States must take positive action to enable people to realize those rights.

In enacting and implementing national legislation we advocate that states consider the ecosystem of national laws, policies, and actors interacting with each other that impact sexual exploitation. This may include laws regarding:

  • human trafficking
  • sexual offenses
  • prostitution
  • immigration
  • child protection
  • sexual violence
  • technology and communication
  • maritime business and offenses
  • tourism, etc,

as well as gender and sex discriminatory laws that increase vulnerability, and policies related to social welfare and the reduction of gendered socio-economic vulnerability. ^

Read more: Legal approaches to ending sexual exploitation

What is Equality Now doing to end sexual exploitation?

  • We work with local organizations and survivors of sexual exploitation to build a nuanced understanding of sexual exploitation in their specific contexts, and jointly identify the range of interventions that are necessary to address it.
  • We work with local partners to engage with state and non-state actors at the national, regional and international levels throughout the ecosystem and ensure that a diverse movement of actors takes action to address sexual exploitation.
  • We promote state accountability to protect people from sexual exploitation by advocating for laws and policies that take into account the ecosystem of related and relevant laws and policies within each context and international laws and standards.
  • We advocate that national laws uphold international laws and standards which have clear provisions on addressing sexual exploitation, structural and sex inequality and impunity of exploiters while protecting the exploited.
  • We support local organizations to challenge impunity using the law and support them to deepen their analysis and be able to challenge attitudes towards shifting responsibility from those exploited to the exploiters.
  • We support strategic litigation that highlights the predatory and gendered nature of sexual exploitation and challenges the criminalization and social stigma faced by the exploited.
  • We advocate for laws and policies that recognize the role of enablers and exploiters, and the impunity they enjoy while often making huge profits, and therefore penalize their actions taking into account the extent of their culpability in the cycle of sexual exploitation chain.

We acknowledge the complexity of sexual exploitation and trafficking and we remain determined to end it. We recognize that as a hugely diverse women’s movement we will not always agree on the approach, but that we must always seek to engage with integrity and respect towards one another and keep the well-being of survivors at the center of any intervention. ^

Learn more: 

Trafficking for sexual exploitation

Addressing vulnerabilities 

The role of technology 

Legal approaches

Sexual exploitation in travel and tourism

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