The right to be free from exploitation is a basic human right. Despite this, millions of women, girls, and other vulnerable people around the world are being sexually exploited. It is our collective responsibility to ensure everybody is able to live safe, fearless and free.Read more
Anonymity, as well as very limited regulation, enables exploiters to easily come into contact with potential victims. The increasing use of social media has also allowed for more opportunities for people to come into contact with offenders and has enabled offenders to anonymously interact with an increasing number of potential victims. Not only has the pool of potential victims expanded exponentially, so too has the pool of potential opportunistic offenders.
This is a global and growing problem.
In many countries, legislation, law enforcement, and awareness have failed to keep up with the negative impacts of the internet and the challenges it brings. In others, the threat has not yet been prioritized or there are limited resources to invest in infrastructure or safeguards to protect children and vulnerable adults online.
This is a global problem that requires harmonized responses from the international community. Whilst some tools exist to combat this issue, they often focus on child sexual abuse images and are not used to combat other forms of online sexual exploitation or trafficking. This leaves a gap in prevention, particularly for adolescent girls. Online sexual exploitation cannot be combated in national silos, it is a global concern requiring a global solution, supported by strong interconnected national response mechanisms.
The global response must overcome many challenges. For instance, any website, whether a large multinational company, one set up specifically to facilitate exploitation or any other platform, may use servers located across legal jurisdictions. Another challenge is ensuring privacy and freedom of expression are protected while balancing the need for regulation that protects vulnerable people from exploitation.
The sheer scale of exploitation online, and it’s continuing growth, can sometimes feel insurmountable. We must not lose hope. Technology can also be used for good. There are excellent tools such as Microsoft’s photoDNA, Spotlight, and AI technology that exist to combat this issue. Organizations like Thorn exist to harness the potential of technology to end child sexual exploitation. We must do all we can to encourage innovation and accelerate tech developments to tackle exploitation.
Civil society, governments, and technology companies and platforms must work together to develop both policy and practical solutions. Only with their input and support can a solution be found.
What is Equality Now doing about this?
- We engage with international networks and platforms which are building a coordinated and cooperative global response to the growing challenge of online sexual exploitation, including developing effective legal, policy and technological solutions.
- We apply a gendered lens to research and understanding of the misuse of tech to facilitate sexual exploitation
- We advocate for a global convention or common international regulations highlighting the responsibility and accountability of all actors involved in the trafficking chain.
Technological and legal solutions cannot work in silos. Online sex trafficking is a global problem and requires cooperation and coordination among governments, tech companies, civil society, and survivors.
We're committed to working together on this. Want to be part of it?
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:
- interactions with the criminal justice system
- mental, intellectual and/or physical capacity
- nationality/citizenship status
- 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.
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.
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Want to join the conversation to end sexual exploitation?
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The internet has completely changed the face of trafficking with an increase in access for buyers and sellers and a rapid increase in activity without regulation:
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) says 78% of victims of online child sexual exploitation are girls.
- In the United States, 2 out of every 3 children sold for sex are trafficked online.
- In the United Kingdom, more than 8,500 sexual services ads are posted online every month. Traffickers are able to easily post ads for trafficked women and children.
- The Philippines Department of Justice receives over 3,000 reports each month of children being sexually exploited and sold online.
Technology and the internet provide the tools that traffickers can use. Online resources such as open and classified advertisement sites, adult websites, social media platforms, chatrooms, extending into the dark-web enable traffickers to interact with an increasing number of potential victims.
How do we address this growing problem?
Solutions must be global, multi-dimensional, and supported by actors including governments, tech companies, civil society, and UN agencies. They must be informed by the experiences and perspectives of survivors.
Equality Now is exploring the role of technology in sexual exploitation in order to advocate for the best approach and most effective solutions for adult women and adolescent girls.
What can you do?
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