Public Opinion is Clear: Urgent Legislation Required to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation! Read the story

Survivors’ 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. 

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

(Conversation Participant, Moldova)

“I did not open up to my teachers because you know very well that in small towns if you

talk about sex you are branded as a ‘whore’ who is well past salvation. To them it was

inconceivable that a girl my age would discuss sexual relations, and even if a girl were to

speak up, others would think that ‘you like it like that’… Imagine for a moment if I were to tell

them ‘they want to force me to have sexual relations against my will’!!! But why? Because I’ve

had sex with my boyfriend when I was 14 or 15 years old! Ahhhh!”

(Conversations’ Participant 1, Albania)

“Sexuality is not talked about in the family, parents with their children, at school, teachers,

if sexuality is talked about more frequently, children would not see it as sin, as bad and they

would not be deceived so easily.”

(Conversations’ Participant 4, Colombia)

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.

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 (see reports at the bottom of this page).

“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.”

(Conversation Participant, 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.”

(Conversation Participant, 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.”

(Conversation Participant, 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. 

The reports and briefing papers drawn from the survivors’ accounts can be found below.

Read the Survivors’ Perspectives reports here:

Read the Global Boys Initiative reports here:


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