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Sexual exploitation, a form of sexual abuse, is when someone abuses or attempts to abuse another person’s vulnerability or their own position of power or trust for sexual purposes.

Overview

International human rights law protects a person’s right to be free from exploitation, yet around the world governments are failing to uphold these rights. Millions of people across the world suffer grave human rights violations as a result of trafficking and exploitation. 

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

  • trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation,
  • commercial sexual exploitation,
  • survival sex,
  • transactional sex,
  • solicitation of transactional sex,
  • and other exploitative relationships.

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.

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

Equality Now’s work on ending sexual exploitation

Enshrining protection from trafficking in international law. In 2001, we led a coalition for the passage of the Palermo Protocol, the leading international guide to combating trafficking. We continue to contribute to creating and sustaining gendered narratives on sex trafficking and sexual exploitation at the international level, and calling for the UN to ensure that its policies are in alignment with international law.

Supporting an African response to sex trafficking and prostitution. As well as progressing efforts towards an African response to sex trafficking and prostitution, we are currently supporting local partners’ advocacy for reform and implementation of laws in Kenya and Malawi.

Engaging the CEDAW Committee. We engaged in consultations on the development of the CEDAW Committee’s General Recommendation (38) on trafficking in women and girls. The General Recommendation provides recommendations to governments, and reinforces that trafficking and exploitation of the prostitution of women and girls “is unequivocally a phenomenon rooted in structural sex-based discrimination, constituting gender-based violence.” 

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.

Our work

Learn more

Key resources

Ending Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Girls: A Call for International Standards

Online sexual exploitation and abuse are growing at an alarming pace globally. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable as offenders take advantage of the sex, gender, …

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Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Kenya

As one of Africa’s leaders on internet uptake, recording the highest internet penetration rate in Africa in 2020, Kenya’s laws are particularly important in protecting users against online sexual exploitation and abuse (OSEA). Among a …

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Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Nigeria

As one of Africa’s leaders on internet uptake with more than half of Nigeria’s population subscribing to the internet, Nigeria’s laws are of particular importance in protecting users against online sexual exploitation and abuse …

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Stories

Hear from some of the incredible survivors and activists committed to raising their voices to end sexual exploitation around the world.

A hand with pink painted fingernails taps on a smartphone resting on a black table.

Cassie – United Kingdom

We got our first computer when I was around ten. Chatrooms were a big thing. You’d get private messages from people you didn’t know and have conversations. It didn’t seem a big deal. We never had lessons about online safety, so we didn’t know that …

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A white young person wearing shorts leans in against a doorway while looking at a smartphone

Sarah Cooper – United States

I was 12 or 13 when I first got a Facebook account. Early on, I would aimlessly go online once or twice a day for an hour or two. Things rapidly progressed and I joined various Facebook subgroups – music fan groups, ones about Harry Potter, Twilight, …

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person's hands holding a smartphone in a dark room

Ruby – United Kingdom

This interview was shared with Equality Now through #myimagemychoice, a survivor-led coalition asking for trauma-informed global laws and policy on intimate image abuse. I’m a 28-years-old teacher and I first became aware of explicit images being shared …

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Radhika – India

I set up a Facebook profile and received a friend request from a man I didn’t know. I saw a few of my family were connected with him so I accepted. He got my telephone number from somewhere and messaged me on WhatsApp.  He asked about my family and I told him I …

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None of us can afford to sit back and wait for equality to arrive – we need to act now. Only by working together will we achieve the legal and systemic change needed to address violence and discrimination against women and girls.

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