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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

Statements to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – 71st Session, May 2022

Equality Now’s statement during the 71st Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights made note of important trends and developments on the …

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Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and exploitation of children

Equality Now submitted this brief to the Office of the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography, and other child sexual …

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Kenya – Submission to the Committee against Torture – 73rd Session – April 2022

This submission details our concerns with regard to laws related to rape and other forms of sexual violence and procedures and practices which effectively deny access to …

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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.

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Steve Grocki expert interview – United States

Steve Grocki is the Chief of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation & Obscenity Section, US Department of Justice  The internet has many marketplaces where people can share child sexual abuse material (CSAM), as well as …

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Dr. Debarati Halder expert interview – India

Dr. Debarati Halder is Managing Director, Centre for Cyber Victims Counselling, India I have observed an explosion in different types of online victimizations targeting women and children, and it is becoming very common. I have dealt …

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Sarah Kuponiyi expert interview – Nigeria

Sarah Kuponoyi is an ImSafer Instructor, Center for Clinical Care and Clinical Research, Nigeria I’ve come across lots of girls who have experienced online harassment, abuse, or exploitation, particularly via Facebook. A girl starts …

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Mohamed Daghar expert interview – Kenya

Mohamed Daghar is the Regional Coordinator Eastern Africa: Enhancing Africa’s response to transnational organized crime, Kenya “Kenya is a technology hub in East Africa – but organized crime accompanies development, and increases …

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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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