A global review of existing literature on the sexual exploitation of boys


ECPAT International (Global Boys Initiative), released 2021

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness that we lack a comprehensive understanding of  how sexual exploitation affects boys. Data on the sexual exploitation of all children is generally lacking. When it does exist, it tends to focus on girls. Yet, evidence suggests that boys may be as, or even more, vulnerable than girls in some contexts. 

In partnership with academics and students from McMaster University and more than 30 member organisations from around the world, ECPAT International gathered published and grey literature on the sexual exploitation of boys for a systematic review.

For the purpose of this review, sexual exploitation of children (SEC) was defined as sexual activities perpetrated on children (persons under 18) that involved an element of exchange such as money, material goods, immaterial things like protection or shelter, services, privileges or attention/affection, or even the mere promise of these things.

Consistent risk factors in the socio-economic environments were found across the globe. Some distinct factors were found to put boys at risk of SEC in the reviewed studies. Within the grey literature, a wide range of gender-specific risk factors for boys were identified, echoing the risk factors noted in the peer-reviewed studies.

This review of the existing global literature identifies a raft of outcomes and correlations regarding the sexual exploitation of boys that can immediately be used to inform frontline worker practices, as well as direct the future research and advocacy agenda. Key risk factors encompass status variables like family dynamics and adverse childhood experiences; gender variables like masculinity beliefs and norms; and a range of other facilitative factors. Technology is being increasingly used as a tool to facilitate boys’ exploitation.

Mental health concerns, problems with substance use, and sexual health concerns were prominent outcomes emerging from the research for boys subjected to SEC.  A focus on identifying resilience factors in affected populations, and strengthening skills that foster resilience is an important co-target to addressing health.

By J Pope

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