Commercial Sexual Exploitation Of Children Essay

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An estimated 2 million children are said to be involved in the multibillion dollar global sex trade. Child sexual exploitation worldwide consists of two activities: participation of children in the sex trade industry and child pornography. Both involve violence and harm to children, in addition to other hazards, including early pregnancy and risk of sexually transmitted diseases, primarily AIDS.

Surveys of adult women in prostitution in North America demonstrate that the majority of women became regularly involved in the sex trade industry as teens. For this reason, the entire sex trade industry can be said to be based on child sexual exploitation.

Children In Prostitution

In developed countries, teens enter the sex trade industry, which depends on young girls free of AIDS infection, in various ways. Forced to leave home early, some sell sex to earn money for survival. The overwhelming majority of girls in prostitution state they were sexually molested as children and, as a result, they may have come to view their bodies as valuable commodities. Pimps and procurers have a way of targeting these needy girls. After providing material support, they will coerce them to earn money in the sex trade in exchange. Frequently, the pimp or manager keeps the girls in the industry against their will through violence and threats of violence. All too often, alcohol and drug addiction results from attempts to ameliorate their pain through disassociation. And the girls are certainly subject to violence from some of their customers.

In underdeveloped countries, it is not uncommon for poor families to sell their girls to managers in the sex trade, and some youth have been raised to see the industry as a viable means of earning money for their families. Escape from brothel owners, who employ violence to control the teens, is difficult. However, research has documented that this practice also occurs in poor communities in North America, where some families view their young girls as money-making commodities.

Estimates of the number of youth involved in prostitution are only guesses; one report estimates that there are 300,000 girls involved in the United States alone. Experts have found that 60% to 70% of all homeless youth in the United States regularly sell sex to meet their survival needs.

Sex Tourism

Although most exploitation of children takes place after they are integrated into the adult sex trade, there are locales worldwide that have developed as destinations for those seeking sexual experiences with children. The customers are not only pedophiles, who are said to organize tours abroad for this purpose, but also other adults who may believe that the sexual use of children in a particular country’s culture is acceptable, that the youth have freely chosen prostitution, or are more sexually experienced at earlier ages; they may excuse their behavior as benevolent since the youth so clearly need the money. Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Cambodia, and India are believed to be among the main centers of child sex tourism. Most of the countries with child sex tourism have passed laws making the trade illegal, but without enforcement these laws have not had an impact. In addition, collusion of police, hotels, and travel agencies with traffickers makes this practice difficult to root out.

Trafficking Of Children

Given the large market for children in the sex trade, many young people will unfortunately be trafficked into prostitution. Sometimes children are abducted, but more typically traffickers promise young women they will have work in the other country as waitresses or domestic servants, when they are in fact being sold to brothels in their own country or in other countries where they will be held by force. The United Nations believes the number of children trafficked annually is 1.2 million. Trafficking can involve individual recruiters, but international trafficking is said to be highly organized, often involving sophisticated criminal gangs who forge passports and arrange for travel. Despite the passage of laws criminalizing and punishing trafficking, finding and prosecuting the perpetrators of these practices have proven difficult.

Until recently, girls in prostitution in developed countries were viewed as delinquents. However, documentation of the practice of trafficking of children has modified views, and many jurisdictions have passed new laws making clear that there are no “child prostitutes,” but rather victims of sexual exploitation. New laws seriously criminalizing both the arranging and engaging in sex with minors signal a new interest in eliminating this kind of sexual exploitation; however, the girls’ use of fake IDs makes prosecution difficult.

Child Pornography

Distribution of images of minor children engaged in sexually explicit conduct is another aspect of sexual exploitation of children. Because there is thought to be a direct linkage between the pictures and child molestation, possession of such images is always a crime.

The only way to produce child pornography is to molest a child. Experts believe that child pornography exists primarily for the consumption of pedophiles and that it is generated as a record of sexual abuse, exchanged rather than sold. Needy children involved in child pornography are often seduced by the pedophile whose caring attitude and gifts or favors work to keep the child in the relationship. The pedophile is also thought to use the images to lower inhibitions of the child, and pictures taken of the child can also be used to blackmail the child into silence.

Statistics are scarce about this clandestine activity, but one network that was broken up had 180 members spread over 49 countries, with 750,000 pornographic images. Clearly, the Internet has facilitated the dissemination and exchange of child pornography.


  1. Finkelhor, D. (1984). Child sexual abuse. New York: Free Press.
  2. Finkelhor, D. (1990). Missing, abducted, runaway, and thrownaway children in America: First report: Numbers and characteristics, national incidence studies. Darby, PA: Diane Publishing.
  3. Kitzinger, J. (2004). Framing abuse: Media influence and public understanding of sexual violence against children. New York: Pluto Press.

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