The Global Initiative to Explore Sexual Exploitation of Boys

The Global Initiative  to Explore Sexual Exploitation of Boys

Sexual Exploitation is the actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.

The World Health Organization (WHO)

Children are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation than adults. Their rights are often ignored, and voices not heard, not even by their own parents. They are not taken seriously. The general consensus in people’s minds is that a child is a lesser being due to their young age and doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. This creates sex offenders an ideal hunting ground where they have lesser chances of being caught.

That said, the awareness and action against child sexual exploitation (CSE) around the world has been steadily growing, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Yet, even among those that take up the war flag against child sexual exploitation, there has been much misunderstanding and discrimination – especially related to genders.

It is a primitive mindset embedded in humankind that males are somehow special – stronger, faster, invulnerable to weakness. In inverse, females are expected to be the gentler weaker counterpart of the species. Children are brought up while encouraged or even forced to believe this. They are told that ‘boys have to be strong and can’t show weakness’, and that ‘boys who cry are weak’.

This makes boy children fear to tell adults when they are exploited, especially sexually, as they think would be perceived as weak. Parents do not even consider the chance of their boy children being sexually exploited. The opinion is that it only happens to girl children as they are the weaker gender. However, the truth is that boys and girls are equally at risk to child sexual exploitation. Even if a man is seen touching a boy child in a very obviously inappropriate manner or is seen taking a boy child to a lonely place, parents are quick to dismiss it as ‘boys being boys’ or ‘boys like to have fun together’. Hence, even if a boy did tell their parents or a trusted adult that they are being sexually exploited, they may be ignored or even worse victim blamed for the sexual exploitation that occurred.

For those rare lucky children who are taken seriously by kind parents, a different type of hell exists. When the parents report it to the law enforcement authorities, the boy child is blamed as the victim and they face humiliation among society. In addition, the laws of many countries do not fully support the boy victims of sexual exploitation. This was the situation identified by ECPAT International, the worldwide network working against child sexual exploitation that PEaCE is a part of. In 2016, at a Global Survivors Forum organised by ECPAT International, male survivor-advocates of sexual exploitation explained that services for boys were extremely rare, and even where services may include boys in their work, there is limited focus on addressing the specific characteristics, experiences and supports required by boys.

Despite an apparent growing global awareness that boys do experience sexual exploitation, and at greater rates than previously recognized, there is not enough research available to fully tell this story. Without data, there is limited understanding of the scale and scope of sexual exploitation that takes place involving boys, how they came into these vulnerable situations and what their needs are in terms of prevention, protection and services.

ECPAT International

Therefore, in order to understand better the true situation of the scope of sexual exploitation involving boys and the services that they are offered, ECPAT International launched a project known as the ‘Global Boys Initiative’ that is being conducted worldwide in all the over 100 ECPAT member countries.

The objectives of the project are to:

  • Consolidate and strengthen the evidence base of the sexual exploitation of boys globally
  • Identify appropriate prevention, protection and recovery framework that can effectively inform legislation, policy and programmes
  • Undertake an exhaustive literature review and targeted primary data collection of the sexual exploitation of boys in the different regions of the world, including lessons learnt and gaps in the responses to male survivors
  • Facilitate a mechanism for partnerships across sectors in order to develop a set of recommendations to improve legislation, policy and programmes relating to the prevention, protection and recovery of the sexual exploitation of boys
  • Engage policy influencers, practitioners, academics and funders to work together on building and collating evidence of the sexual exploitation of boys

The project aims to output a report for each country including a legislative analysis, results from a survey of frontline welfare workers (not those involved in law enforcement) in that country and in some cases, interviews with a small sample of young people.

As part of the ECPAT network, PEaCE (ECPAT Sri Lanka) is undertaking the surveys for frontline welfare workers in Sri Lanka, while researching and providing information for the legislative analysis that is being done for the final report. The analysis which began in late 2020 is complete for the most part. The survey which began in May is facing some slight roadblocks due to the ongoing global pandemic.

However, the survey should be completed by the end of August, and the report is expected to be released by September at the latest. This country report will give in-depth information on the laws governing sexual exploitation of boy children in Sri Lanka, along with a comparative analysis of the services offered to boys versus girls and the mindsets of frontline welfare service providers in Sri Lanka towards boy victims of sexual exploitation.

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