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How Sexual Crimes Against Children have Changed Over Time

What We Know After 30 Years
By ECPAT International
IN Online Exploitation & Research
December 9th, 2020

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This year, ECPAT International celebrates 30 years of preventing and responding to the sexual exploitation of children around the world, and a thirtieth birthday is a good moment to take stock of what we know and look to the future. Over the years, we have organised our work by focusing on five forms and contexts of child sexual exploitation. However, as the world has rapidly changed so too has the nature of these crimes.

Click on the images to access the five summary papers.

In five Summary Papers, ECPAT outline what we know about the different ways in which children are sexually exploited. The papers explain how our understanding has evolved along with the changes in the way perpetrators have operated over the years, and what this means going forward. They will be used to inform our upcoming actions and strategies to continue our work on global and unified efforts to end the sexual exploitation of children.

Five Forms and Contexts of Child Sexual Exploitation

Each ECPAT Summary Paper explores a form or context of sexual exploitation, presents up-to-date research, summarises advocacy work to clarify how we conceptualise the issues, and names key trends and challenges.

Over the years, ECPAT has addressed the sexual exploitation of children online, through prostitution and trafficking, in travel and tourism settings, and child, early and forced marriages that enable sexual exploitation. We look at the crime through these five lenses and plan our research and advocacy work guided by what we see.

We are now faced with new challenges. For example, new questions arise about how to address children’s increasing self-generation of sexualised content.

Crimes are Becoming More Complex and Interlinked

Today, these forms and contexts are becoming increasingly complex and interlinked as a result of increased travelling, technology and internet access. From ECPAT’s roots in the 1990s, which started with a campaign to end the sexual exploitation of children as typically seen in the streets of popular tourist destinations in Asia, we now need to look beyond.

We know that prostitution no longer occurs solely in streets or establishments but is increasingly being arranged online and through social media. We know that the sexual exploitation of children online in most cases are the recordings of real-life sexual violence in a range of different contexts. We know that trafficking is not solely a cross-border phenomenon but happens extensively on a domestic level and is increasingly enabled by the internet.

As the crimes evolve, and our understanding evolves with it, we must keep finding new ways to protect the world’s children. We are now faced with new challenges, and ever-moving boundaries require innovative responses. For example, new questions are arising about how to address children’s increasing self-generation of sexualised content. Rapidly advancing technology is raising questions about responsibility and regulation – as concerns with tools like end-to-end encryption causing headaches for law enforcement in bringing perpetrators to justice.

As the crimes evolve, and as our understanding evolves with it, we must keep finding new ways to protect the world’s children.

30 years of research behind us — evolving issues ahead

ECPAT has 30 years of deep experience and research behind us, from overviews of individual countries’ situations surrounding the sexual exploitation of children, to partnering with global leaders on research including Interpol, Unicef Innocenti Office of Research, and expert academics to gain a global and solid evidence base.

We will continue to identify and address evolving issues, and help chart the way to an end to sexual exploitation of children.

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