What have we learned on the frontlines in Sri Lanka about the sexual exploitation of boys? Read The Story

Survivor Perspectives

Why do we collect evidence together with survivors? 

Experts and policy-makers are understandably hesitant to engage survivors – for fear of causing further distress or harm. There is no doubt that doing so raises a lot of ethicaquestions. However, centring survivors’ perspectives is critical to informing and refining preventions and appropriate responses. We have a responsibility to find ways to do this safely. 

  • Strong evidence allows us to provide better support to survivors.  
  • Strong evidence allows for stronger prevention approaches to sexual exploitation. 

Our research requires careful thought and preparation to ensure that the best ethical practices are being used. Because the research involves children, we have added responsibilities to do the absolute best by them. 


Guidelines for Ethical Research

ECPAT International, via a global working group with our network members, developed clear and practical guidelines to direct researchers through the necessary steps to design a project in this sensitive area.

The Guidelines for Ethical Research on Sexual Exploitation involving Children include a series of ‘ethical tasks’ that we have found helps research involving vulnerable children to be conducted properly. 

“I thought I have been through the worst but today I have learned that many other women went through the same or even worse situations. I don’t feel alone anymore.”

(Conversations’ Participant, Sierra Leone)

“We will come together, fight together and bring an end to this crime.”

(Conversations’ Participant, India)

“And what are you going to say to the police, that you undressed yourself?”

(Conversations’ Participant 2, Moldova)

Our ‘Survivor Conversations’ Approach 

To address a global gap in the research, we have developed the ‘Survivor Conversations’ approach, a carefully designed way of conducting research with survivors of child sexual exploitation and abuse. 

‘Survivor Conversations’ have been tried and tested in a number of our projects in more than a dozen countries over the last few years. The method is a safe way to engage children and young people in the dialogue on child sexual exploitation and harness their advice and recommendations for solutions. 

Survivor Conversations are:

  • Participant centred: Numerous elements of the method are constructed to ensure the young people have full control of the dialogue. For example, consent procedures are completed in two steps with a gap between to reflect. That process also includes the opportunity to co-design how and where the conversations take place. The conversations are deliberately not called ‘interviews’ and are unstructured to ensure they do not feel like an interrogation. Great care is taken to ensure the participants know they have full control over what they share or don’t share. 
  • Conducted safely by trained local professionals: Conversations are undertaken by local psychologists and social workers who are trauma-informed and experienced in working with survivors of sexual exploitation. These facilitators also undergo extensive preparations with our ‘Conversations’ experts to learn and become comfortable with the research method.
  • Solution focused: Conversations are future-focused, and aim to capture recommendations from young people for improvements. Their experiences of exploitation are not the focus – though when they feel comfortable, many young people still chose to share these things to explain their recommendations. 


Read the Methodology 

You can read our detailed methods paper outlining the ‘Survivor Conversations’ as it was used in the Disrupting Harm project. A report dedicated to the findings from those survivor conversations will be released in early 2022. 

The ‘Survivor Conversations’ method was also used as part of our Global Boys Initiative. You can see the method reflected in the reports for ThailandSouth Korea and Hungary (to be released Jan 2022).

“Knowing about cybercrimes – that would have made me stop a bit and I would have realised that what was happening to me was that I was being the victim of a crime. For us as young people it is important to recognise the strategies that these people use to manipulate and deceive and thus achieve to identify and stop them, not knowing how they act gives them an advantage to be able to deceive us.”

(Conversations’ Participant 5, Colombia)

“Even the psychologist from that school, I remember that there was one who gave us guidance and she knew everything and did nothing. I went to her and talked to her about various things but the same, I never felt confident because she knew everything. I knew it was wrong but I didn’t really know why or what.”

(Conversations’ Participant 9, Mexico)

“At first the police were not very interested. I remember when I went to the police, they looked at me like I was nobody. It seemed to me that they didn’t care that I came to them and that I was a minor. Then came the psychologist and I felt a kind of support. But the police seemed to be making fun of me.”

(Conversations’ Participant 7, Moldova)

Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Online: Survivors’ Perspectives

During 2020-21, ECPAT International engaged in a six-country research project in partnership with the WeProtect Global Alliance and our members in:


ECPAT Albania

This innovative project used the ‘Survivor Conversations’ approach in five out of the six countries to firmly centre young survivors in research on the increasing problem of child sexual exploitation and abuse online 

The research was conceived to centre the perspectives of survivors on the availability, quality and effectiveness of support services for children who have been subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse online.  

The specific objectives were:  

  • To directly engage survivors to ensure their perspectives on solutions are clearly represented in the global dialogue; 
  • To survey frontline workers in order to provide a substantial and nuanced understanding of how child sexual exploitation and abuse online is presenting and being supported in current social support services;  
  • To translate this data into concrete strategy, policy and action by policy makers, social support services, law enforcement and the technology industry.  

Read the reports here: 

Country report
Briefing Paper

Available: English, Albanian

Country Report
Briefing Paper

Available: English, Romanian

Country Report
Briefing Paper

Available: English, Spanish

Colombia (30 November)
Peru (December)

Survivors’ perspectives about their experiences of sexual crimes during childhood continue to be rarely centralised in the dialogue – there is surprisingly little research directly conveying their experiences of child sexual exploitation and abuse or the responses they receive. 

Learn more about the work we do with survivors

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