In August 2022, ECPAT International published the Global Boys Initiative: Bolivia Report, the eighth in a series of ten country reports that explores the underreported issue of the sexual exploitation of boys.
In an interview with Estudio Abierto, Francesco Cecon, ECPAT’s Head of Global Boys Initiative, discussed the importance of raising awareness about the sexual exploitation of boys and changing societal perceptions that boys cannot be at risk of or be survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse.
Watch the interview below (in Spanish):
Video credit: Estudio Abierto, ATB Digital 2022
Click here to read the article in Spanish.
What are the main challenges that we face in Bolivia on the issue of the sexual exploitation of boys?
Gender norms and ideas of masculinity that we have in the Bolivian context—as in other countries—mean that boys are not considered as vulnerable and not protected. It can also mean that when a male child is able to open up about a situation of abuse and/or sexual exploitation, he is not believed. And we see this at the level of the family, the community, and service providers.
What you are telling us is striking because there is a difference between reports that come from girls and boys. It’s easier to believe the girls—that’s how we’ve been taught and raised. What can be done to change this?
First, we have to work with children and adolescents to challenge ideas around masculinity. Because of gender norms, boys are discouraged from opening up and seeking help because of abuse, exploitation, or other situations that they may be experiencing.
Second, it is important to work with families to raise awareness that boys are also at risk of sexual exploitation. This is especially relevant now, as cases of online child sexual exploitation have increased, with more children having access to technology during the pandemic.
Community engagement is also important to ensure that children who are at high risk—such as children living on the streets—can be in a safe and preventive environment and perceived as a population at risk of violence and sexual exploitation.
Lastly, we need to address gender norms on a societal level so that we can understand that it is much more difficult for boys to disclose a situation of sexual abuse. We need to be able to spot the signs of sexual exploitation and abuse in boys, which requires us to improve existing tools and knowledge.
What other actions are planned to prevent to the sexual abuse and exploitation of boys?
As part of the Global Boys Initiative, we are documenting practices because the experience and expertise on this issue of how to work with boys, how to approach them, how to build trust with them, and how to talk about these issues with families and communities are not explored enough.
Our priority now is to understand the experiences in various countries, which can then be used to develop standards and guidelines to support child protection professionals on how to work with boys.
Currently, ECPAT International is here in Bolivia working with our member, Munasim Kullakita Foundation, to document their experience of working with street children where they have been able to put in place a system of community mobilisation on this issue and building trust with boys. We are doing this to document it and capitalize on it, so that other countries can also learn from this approach.
ABOUT THE GLOBAL BOYS INITIATIVE:
At the 2016 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.
In 2019 to delve into this, ECPAT co-authored an academic paper that looked at the global situation of sexual exploitation of boys. It showed that despite a growing global awareness that boys do experience sexual exploitation, and at greater rates than previously recognised, there is limited research available to fully tell this story.
As the programmatic responses to identify and meet the particular needs of boys are scarce, ECPAT International launched the Global Initiative to explore the sexual exploitation of boys which activates our global network of member organisations in a range of research and response activities.
Learn more about the Global Boys Initiative here.