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Ending Sexual Exploitation

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.


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

15 November 2021

Online sexual exploitation and abuse are growing at an alarming pace globally. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable as…

United States – Joint submission to the Human Rights Committee (CCPR) 125th Session March 2019

02 June 2019

The submission focuses on the need for equality of women to be explicitly enshrined in the U.S. Constitution; child marr…

Learning From Cases of Girls’ Rights

07 November 2015

Representing the knowledge gained from cases undertaken as part of Equality Now’s Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund (A…

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

Ruchira Gupta expert interview – India

Ruchira Gupta is the Founder-President of Apne Aap Women Worldwide and Apne Aap International, India When the pandemic started in India, there were major social and economic changes with schools closing and lessons going online. Children ...


white hands with red nail polish hold a mobile phone near a laptop keyboard

Louise – United Kingdom

I don’t remember anyone speaking to me at school about online safety. The focus was on stranger danger, not about the guy on the internet. I was around nine when I first went on an online chatroom. You were supposed to be over 13 to join but I didn’t have ...


A black person's hand's hold a smartphone over a wooden table

Modupe – Nigeria

I was 16 years old when I started accessing the internet. I had a friend who knew about things. She introduced me to Facebook and helped me create an account. As soon as I logged on I began receiving requests.   I didn’t know the first person who contacted ...


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 ...



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.