Forced sexual exploitation of adults and children

Forced sexual exploitation of adults and children

Persons in forced labour and services imposed by private actors for sexual exploitation and includes women and men who have involuntarily entered a form of commercial sexual exploitation, or who have entered the sex industry voluntarily but cannot leave. It also includes all forms of commercial sexual exploitation involving children.

The sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 is a form of sexual abuse. The term sexual exploitation takes account of the new ways that children and adults are groomed and tricked into sex.

Sexual exploitation can take many forms from the seemingly 'consensual' relationship where sex is exchanged for attention, affection, accommodation or gifts, to serious organised crime and child trafficking. What marks out exploitation is an imbalance of power within the relationship. The predator always holds some kind of power over the victim, increasing the dependence of the victim as the exploitative relationship develops.

Sexual exploitation is often linked to other issues in the life of a child or young person, or in the wider community context. It should not be regarded as an isolated issue. Sexual exploitation has links to other types of crime such as:

  • child trafficking (into, out of and within the territory)
  • domestic abuse
  • sexual violence in intimate relationships
  • grooming (both online and offline)
  • abusive images of children and their distribution
  • organised sexual abuse of children
  • drugs-related offences (dealing, consuming and cultivating)
  • gang-related activity
  • immigration-related offences
  • domestic servitude.

4.8 million people – almost exclusively female – were victims of forced sexual exploitation in 2016

Women and girls accounted for more than 99 per cent of all victims of forced sexual exploitation. More than 70 per cent of victims of forced sexual exploitation were in the Asia and the Pacific region, followed by Europe and Central Asia (14 per cent), Africa (8 per cent), the Americas (4 per cent), and the Arab States (1 per cent).32 Information from the IOM database suggested that the duration of exploitation was typically protracted; victims were exploited for an average of about two years (23.1 months) before being freed or managing to escape.

Regional distribution of forced sexual exploitation

Regional distribution of forced sexual exploitation

Children comprised more than a fifth of all victims of commercial sexual exploitation

More than 1 million of the victims of forced sexual exploitation – 21 per cent of all victims – were children under the age of 18 years. In accordance with the ILO’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), all children found in any type of commercial sexual activity exploitation are considered victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Child victims of commercial sexual exploitation are particularly difficult to detect, either through efforts by law enforcement and child protection agents or through survey data collection. The true figure is likely far higher than the current estimates.


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