Womens Support Project

Commercial sexual exploitation

"Adult entertainment" / Lap Dancing | Prostitution | Pornography |

The Women’s Support Project believes that commercial sexual exploitation is part of the spectrum of men’s violence against women and children, which includes incest, rape, sexual harassment and domestic abuse. There are clear links between issues such as childhood experience of abuse and neglect, domestic abuse, poverty, homelessness, addiction, and women’s involvement in prostitution, pornography and the sex industry as a whole.

Commercial sexual exploitation is …

"A practice by which a person achieves sexual gratification, financial gain or advancement through the abuse or exploitation of a person’s sexuality by abrogating that person’s human right to dignity, equality, autonomy, and physical and mental well-being; i.e. trafficking, prostitution, prostitution tourism, mail-order-bride trade, pornography, stripping, battering, incest, rape and sexual harassment. Sexual exploitation preys on women and children made vulnerable by poverty and economic development policies and practices; refugee and displaced persons; and on women in the migrating process. Sexual exploitation eroticizes women’s inequality and is a vehicle for racism and "first world" domination, disproportionately victimizing minority and "third world" women. Sexual exploitation violates the human rights of anyone subjected to it, whether female or male, adult or child, Northern or Southern."
Pimps and Predators on the Internet (pdf 1.28MB)
Globalizing Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children
Donna M Hughes 

There is no fixed or legal definition of commercial sexual exploitation. Indeed there has been limited public debate on what makes the difference between something being sexually explicit and sexually exploitative. The sex industry tends not to distinguish between these and attacks campaigners against sexual exploitation as being moralistic and ‘anti-sex’. The Women’s Support Project does not object, for example, to sex education materials that include explicit images nor to nudity per se in film or theatre.

It is our view that commercial sexual exploitation includes, but is not limited to:

  • stripping
  • pole dancing
  • lap dancing
  • massage parlours / saunas
  • brothels
  • escort agencies.
  • prostitution
  • phone sex lines
  • internet sex chat rooms
  • pornography 
  • trafficking
  • forced marriage
  • mail order brides
  • sex tourism

Negative impacts

Commercial sexual exploitation commodifies women and girls and supports a culture that views women as objects who are more a ‘sum of body parts’ than a whole being, and eroticises men’s violence and their perceived ‘right to buy’ whatever acts they have sexualised.

Whilst sexual exploitation mainly involves the abuse of women and girls, men and boys are also affected. Firstly some men and boys are directly abused and exploited through prostitution and pornography, overwhelmingly for use by men. Secondly men are financially exploited by the sex industry - they are paying to access something that should be free, equal and respectful. Whilst the vast majority of men who buy sex are in a position to choose – unlike the women and children who are prostituted – nevertheless we are concerned at the normalisation of the sex industry and the pressure on men, especially young men, to be consumers within the sex industry.

It is our view that commercial sexual exploitation is inextricably linked with both the prevalence and the acceptability of sexual violence within our society. Any work towards gender equality and the elimination of male violence against women is undermined so long as the abuse of women and children through commercial sexual exploitation goes unchallenged. The objective of work around sexual violence must be the eradication of rape and this will not be achieved until we tackle the root causes of this violence – namely structural inequality, negative attitudes to women and society’s tolerance and acceptance of these attitudes.


Pleasure vs Profit - growing up in a pornified Scotland.

A short film developed by the Women`s Support Project and Zero Tolerance www.youtube.com/watch

Parents, carers and those working with young people are increasingly concerned about the bombardment of sexualised and violent imagery that young people face every day, and its effects on their wellbeing. `Pleasure vs. Profit` is one of the first resources to make the connections between sexualisation and the creep of pornographic images and values into mainstream culture, and to focus on the situation in Scotland. Accompanying the film is a comprehensive information pack, developed by the Women`s Support Project with support from Zero Tolerance, which provides more information and ideas on how to challenge `porn culture`. The Pleasure Vs Profit pack (pdf 7.5MB)  is accessible here  (pdf 7.5 MB)

With input from young people, police and activists, the film exposes how the porn industry manipulates young people`s natural curiosity about sex, and in doing so jeopardises their ability to explore their sexuality in a healthy way and at their own pace.

Further information & support

For information on support services in Greater Glasgow area please see: WSP Directory of support services

The following websites provide helpful information on commercial sexual exploitation.

This site offers information and research on women abused through prostitution.
Highly recommended.

www.equalitynow.org/survivorstories                                                                                                                                                                  Equality Now has launched `Survivors` Stories` where survivors of Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation from around the world tell their stories.

Website of End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes.
Includes excellent list of links to other anti-pornography sites.

A selection of Andrea Dworkin’s writing.

Training, consultancy and research from a feminist perspective.

Information on prostitution and trafficking.

Website of Myrna Balk, artist and campaigner against sexual exploitation.

An excellent website with research links, resources and advice on using antipornography resources.

Standing Against Global Exploitation Project – or the SAGE Project – is a nonprofit organisation aiming to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children and adults.

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