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What is sexual exploitation?

Sexual exploitation is the sexual abuse of children and youth through the exchange of sex or sexual acts for drugs, food, shelter, protection, other basics of life, and/or money. Sexual exploitation includes involving children and youth in creating pornography and sexually explicit websites. While the Criminal Code of Canada defines sexually exploited youth as under 18 years of age, the Child, Family and Community Service Act is applicable to youth under age 19. Therefore, youth who are under 19 years old are able to access services through the Ministry of Children and Family Development. 

Other terms that are used to talk about sexual exploitation are “child prostitution” and “youth sex trade”.  We use the terms “sexual exploitation” or “commercial sexual exploitation” to acknowledge that the use of children and youth for sexual acts is abuse and is inherently exploitative. 

While youth may not use the term “sexual exploitation” to talk about involvement in the sex trade, this is the way that it is framed under the law.  Many sexually exploited youth face realities of drug use, homelessness, past trauma, and other factors which have lead them in to the survival sex trade.  Other youth may have no such history and may have been lured, tricked or forced in to being sexually exploited.  Regardless of their personal history and life experience, it is important to respect the identities of these youth while also recognizing that any sex act between youth and adults is abuse.

Internationally, some sexually exploited children and youth are victims of human trafficking, that is they have been moved across borders through force or coercion for the purposes of sexual exploitation.  For more information on human trafficking, see the Department of Justice Canada website.Legal Information

Sexual exploitation is defined by various legal documents that define who qualifies as a “youth”, and how youth are treated differently than adults when involved in the sex trade.  For more information on the legal and governmental distinctions between sexually exploited youth and adult sex work, please see the following sites.

The Criminal Code of Canada defines the age of a youth as under the age of 18 years.

The legal age to give consent to engage in sexual activity is 14 years.  The age of consent for anal sex is 18.

However, when a youth is under 18 years of age, it is a crime for an individual to exchange money or anything else of consideration for sexual acts with that youth, as outlined in Section 212(4) of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Several provincial governments have put forth legislation to protect exploited youth through voluntary services, and in Alberta through the use of involuntary services. In BC, the Child, Family and Community Service Act outlines measures for protecting and supporting sexually exploited youth through services funded by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Bill C-2:  is an Act for the protection of children and other vulnerable witnesses.  This new law will significantly increase penalties for those who abuse children and encourages the use of special accommodations for children and other vulnerable witnesses in giving their testimony.  For more information on Bill C-2 visit the website for the Department of Justice Canada

For general information on the legal system, see the following sites:

The Law Courts Education Society

The People’s Law School

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child This international human rights convention is one of the most important documents upon which children’s rights are founded internationally and in Canada.

Child Rights Information Network View the sexual exploitation section for more information on the UN Convention and related children’s rights issues.

Dealing with Issues of Sexual Exploitation: A Guide for Parents (PDF english) The sexual exploitation of young girls and boys for profit is a complex social issue, and is particularly distressing for the parents of these youth. This guidebook from the McCreary Youth Foundation is intended to provide support, hope and helpful advice for parents who are trying to cope with this crisis in their families, as well as caregivers, such as guardians and foster parents.

(PDF translations available in Punjabi, Simple Chinese, Traditional Chinese and Vietnamese )

CASEY Online website This website provides basic information about sexual exploitation in BC, in addition to their other projects.

Child Rights Information Network Visit this website for up to date information on international conventions outlining the rights of children and youth.  They provide links to relevant United Nations documents and reports from international summits.

Children of the Street Society Visit Children of the Street Society’s website to learn more about sexual exploitation, including information about recruitment, realities of being in the sex trade, barriers to exiting, and what to do if your child goes missing or is involved in sexual exploitation.  Resources are available in many languages.

Sexual Exploitation UN definition of sexual exploitation of children: The use of a child for sexual purposes in exchange for cash or in-kind favours between a customer, intermediary or agent and others who profit from the trade in children for these purposes—parent, family member, procurer, teacher

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse PolicyThe United Nations has developed a series of policies concerning sexual exploitation and abuse in response to allegations that such acts had been committed by peacekeeping and humanitarian personnel. Allegations of this nature arose in regions including the Balkans, Cambodia and Timor Leste during the 1990s, in West Africa in 2002 and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2004.

In his report to the General Assembly on the Investigation into sexual exploitation of refugees by aid workers in West Africa (2002), former Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "Sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian staff cannot be tolerated. It violates everything the United Nations stands for. Men, women and children displaced by conflict or other disasters are among the most vulnerable people on earth. They look to the United Nations and its humanitarian partners for shelter and protection. Anyone employed by or affiliated with the United Nations who breaks that sacred trust must be held accountable and, when the circumstances so warrant, prosecuted."

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises, composed of UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), was established in March 2002. It developed agreed definitions of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and adopted standards of behaviour to be included in UN and NGO codes of conduct.

This led to the Secretary-General’s bulletin Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse in October 2003. This document reiterates specific prohibitions and standards for all UN personnel. Sexual exploitation is defined as "any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another". Sexual abuse is defined as "the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions".

Reiterating obligations under United Nations Staff Regulations and Rules, the Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse bulletin provides that:
1. Sexual exploitation and sexual abuse constitute acts of serious misconduct and are therefore grounds for disciplinary measures, including summary dismissal;
2. Sexual activity with children (persons under the age of 18) is prohibited regardless of the age of majority or age of consent locally. Mistaken belief in the age of a child is not a defence;
3. Exchange of money, employment, goods or services for sex, including sexual favours or other forms of humiliating, degrading or exploitative behaviour, is prohibited. This includes any exchange of assistance that is due to beneficiaries of assistance;
4. Sexual relationships between United Nations staff and beneficiaries of assistance, since they are based on inherently unequal power dynamics, undermine the credibility and integrity of the work of the United Nations and are strongly discouraged;
5. Where a United Nations staff member develops concerns or suspicions regarding sexual exploitation or sexual abuse by a fellow worker, whether in the same agency or not and whether or not within the United Nations system, he or she must report such concerns via established reporting mechanisms;
6. United Nations staff are obliged to create and maintain an environment that prevents sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. Managers at all levels have a particular responsibility to support and develop systems that maintain this environment.

These and other types of sexually exploitive or sexually abusive behaviour may be grounds for administrative action or disciplinary measures, including summary dismissal, pursuant to the United Nations Staff Regulations and Rules.

The UN has also issued a series of disciplinary directives for military members of national contingents, civilian police officers and military observers. The Secretary-General’s bulletin Observance by United Nations forces of international humanitarian law prohibits UN forces conducting operations under UN command and control from committing acts of sexual exploitation and abuse, and stipulates a particular duty of care towards women and children.

Human Rights Watch Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigates Human Rights abuses throughout the world, publishing its findings in books and reports every year. These activities often generate significant coverage in local and international media. This publicity in turn prompts governments to change their policies and practices. In cases of extreme human rights abuses, HRW advocates for the withdrawal of military and economic support from governments that violate the rights of their people.

In international conflicts and other crises, HRW provides current information about conflicts—focusing on the human rights situation on the ground—while the conflicts or crises are underway. The purpose of HRW is to increase the price of human rights abuse, thereby helping to decrease the incidents of such abuses.

HRW is the largest human rights organization based in the United States. HRW employs lawyers, journalists, academics, and country experts of many nationalities and diverse backgrounds, and often leverages the force of allied human rights organizations by joining forces with them to achieve shared human rights goals. As of February 2002, Human Rights Watch employed 189 permanent staff plus short-term fellows and consultants. Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental organization. It gains most of its support from contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly, from the United States or any other government. HRW is not an agency of the U.S. government, nor was it founded by the U.S. government. Although HRW frequently calls on the United States to support human rights in U.S. foreign policy, the organization also reports on human rights abuses inside the United States. HRW has made negative reports against the United States in areas such as prison conditions, police abuse, the detention of immigrants, and the imposition of the death penalty.

HRW maintains its headquarters in New York. It also maintains offices in Brussels, Bujumbura, Freetown (Sierra Leone), Kigali, Geneva, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, San Francisco, Santiago de Chile, Tashkent, Tbilisi, and Washington.

Most HRW research is carried out by sending fact-finding teams into countries where there have been allegations of serious human rights abuses. HRW examines the human rights practices of governments of all political stripes, of all geopolitical alignments, and of all ethnic and religious persuasions. HRW documents and denounces murders, disappearances, torture, Arbitrary imprisonment, discrimination, and other abuses of internationally recognized human rights.

Not only does HRW encompass the entire globe for its activities, but HRW is interested in enormously complex and diverse issues. For example, HRW follows developments worldwide in women's rights, children's rights, and the flow of arms to abusive forces. Other HRW projects include Academic Freedom, the human rights responsibilities of corporations, international justice, prisons, drugs, and Refugees. The unique and independent nature of this international organization enables it to target any and all parties to conflict.

HRW pursues active investigations of human rights abuses in more than 70 countries. Its methods for obtaining human rights information has made it a credible source of information for individuals and governments concerned with human rights. To conduct research, Human Rights Watch sends members of its staff to interview people who have firsthand experience with alleged abuse. Researchers work with local activists and other specialists. Their findings are written up in reports.

HRW reports categorize and describe human rights violations, detail probable causes for the abuses, and make recommendations for ways to end the abuses. HRW has published more than a thousand reports dealing with human rights issues in more than one hundred countries worldwide. HRW has used its investigations to examine human rights violations associated in the following cases: Taliban massacres in Afghanistan; trafficking of Thai women in Asia; rape in U.S. prisons; refugees in Sierra Leone; and conflicts in Indonesia, Macedonia, Colombia, Russia, and the Congo.

Since its formation, HRW has focused mainly on upholding civil and political rights. HRW began in 1978 with the founding of its European division, Helsinki Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Helsinki). This was in response to a call for support from groups in Moscow, Warsaw, and Prague, which had been established to monitor compliance in Soviet Bloc countries with the human rights provisions of the landmark Helsinki accords. A few years later, the Reagan administration contended that human rights abuses by certain right-wing governments were more tolerable than those of left-wing governments. Thus, to counter charges of maintaining a double standard between the East and West, HRW formed Americas Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Americas).

By 1987, HRW had developed a powerful set of techniques for pursuing its agenda: painstaking documentation of abuses and aggressive advocacy in the press and with governments, and it employed these techniques all over the world. Over time, the organization grew to cover other regions of the world. Eventually, all the "Watch" committees were united in 1988 to form Human Rights Watch.

Between 1993 and 2003, HRW has increasingly addressed economic, social, and cultural rights as well. It is particularly attuned to situations in which its methods of investigation and reporting are most effective. These include cases in which arbitrary or discriminatory governmental conduct lies behind an economic, social and cultural rights violation. In addition to governments, its work also addresses significant economic players and such international financial institutions as the World Bank and multi-national corporations such as General Electric. Today, HRW comprises seven major divisions: Africa, the Americas, Arms, Asia, Children, Women, the Middle East and North Africa, and Europe and Central Asia.

Overview of Statistics Record-keeping and data tracking of allegations of misconduct and subsequent actions started in 2006. In July 2008, the Department of Field Support (DFS) launched the Misconduct Tracking System (MTS), a global database and confidential tracking system for all allegations of misconduct.

The statistical information provided on this website is derived from MTS as well as data received from the Investigations Division of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). Statistics on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse are provided by OIOS. OIOS may receive allegations independently which are not immediately known to either Conduct and Discipline Teams (CDTs) in the field or DFS/DPKO. Consequently, there is no strict correlation between data from OIOS at the allegation stage and data on the status of investigations of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse from MTS.

An allegation is an unproven report of alleged misconduct, which may not necessarily lead to an investigation if there is insufficient information to warrant an investigation. Allegations are counted per individual, unless the number and/or identities of individuals have not been confirmed. In that case, allegations would be counted per incident.

A completed investigation is an investigation report with details on evidence either substantiating or not substantiating the allegations against a number of individuals. Completed investigations are counted on the basis of individuals involved and therefore may also differ from the number of allegations as initially reported.

Sexual abuse refers to any action that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually they don’t want to do.

It can also refer to behavior that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which

sexual activity occurs, including oral sex, rape or restricting access to birth control and condoms. Some examples of

sexual assault and abuse are:

Unwanted kissing or touching.

Unwanted rough or violent sexual activity.

Rape or attempted rape.

Refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control.

Keeping someone from protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Sexual contact with someone who is very drunk, drugged, unconscious or otherwise unable to give a clear and informed

“yes” or “no.” + Threatening or pressuring someone into unwanted sexual activity.

Keep in Mind + Everyone has the right to decide what they do or don’t want to do sexually. Not all sexual assaults are violent “attacks.”

Most victims of sexual assault know the assailant.

Both men and women can be victims of sexual abuse.

Both men and women can be perpetrators of sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse can occur in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.

Sexual abuse can occur between two people who have been sexual with each other before, including people who are married or dating.

If you have been sexually assaulted, first get to a safe place away from the attacker. You may be scared, angry and confused, but remember the abuse was in no way your fault. You have options.

Contact Someone You Trust. Many people feel fear, guilt, anger, shame and/or shock after they have been sexually assaulted.

Having someone there to support you as you deal with these emotions can make a big difference. It may be helpful to speak with a counselor, someone at a sexual assault hotline or a support group.

Sexual exploitation is a form of gender-based violence that is all too frequently a characteristic of warfare. In situations of armed conflict, girls and women are routinely targeted in campaigns of gender-based violence, including rape, mutilation, prostitution, forced pregnancy and sexual slavery. Rape has been used systematically as a weapon of war and as a means to terrorize populations and destroy community ties. Adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to rape, abduction, trafficking and prostitution.  During humanitarian crises, girls and women are faced with limited economic opportunities. Desperate to support themselves and their families, they may be forced into alliances with military forces, including peacekeepers and even humanitarian personnel, as a means to negotiate safety and survival. Those who have been employed to protect vulnerable populations may abuse their power with impunity.

In humanitarian crises, UNICEF works to ensure the safety of children and women, focusing its efforts in three areas: prevention; protection; and recovery and reintegration. UNICEF field offices have increased protection for children and women at risk, and supported these efforts with policy and programme guidance. In Sierra Leone, for example, together with its partners, UNICEF has established procedures for the immediate protection of children in camps and communities and developed a community monitoring and reporting system for sexual exploitation and child abuse for both camp and non-camp populations.

UNICEF has also produced training materials for its staff and partners on the prevention of sexual abuse and exploitation. Training is underway in several regions, including Southern and West Africa.

In 2002, following allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by aid workers and peacekeepers, UNICEF became co-chair of the IASC Task Force on Protection from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in Humanitarian Crises. The Task Force has received a committed and coordinated response from the humanitarian community to prevent and address sexual abuse and exploitation. Among the measures outlined in the Task Force Plan of Action is the requirement that a set of six core principles be incorporated into all IASC codes of conduct, including a principle prohibiting sexual activity with persons under the age of 18, regardless of the age of majority or age of consent locally. The Task Force has also called for greater transparency and accountability in the delivery of humanitarian assistance. It is playing a lead role in developing mechanisms to prevent abuse and to ensure accountability.



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