What Is Commercial Sexual Exploitation?

Written by on May 25th, 2017

Have you ever heard the phrase “commercial sexual exploitation”?

If you’ve been tracking with Exodus Cry recently you’ve probably seen or heard that phrase used. But what exactly does it mean and why does it matter?

Commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) is what happens to anyone sold in the sex industry. It’s in many ways synonymous with sex trafficking and includes all forms of sexual exploitation for profit, including escort, street and brothel prostitution, as well as pornography, and stripping. Anytime payment is exchanged for some kind of sexual objectification of another person it’s considered CSE.

For those who want to fight trafficking, knowing that sex trafficking exists is the first step. The next step is understanding CSE because that’s what allows sex trafficking to exist. For that reason, if we want to end sex trafficking we must end commercial sexual exploitation.

Just because a woman wasn’t physically “forced” to be sold for sex doesn’t mean there weren’t other compelling forces drawing her into this place of degradation.

CSE is unique from sex trafficking in that it doesn’t necessarily require proof of the distinguishing trafficking factors of “force, fraud, and coercion” as prerequisites. What that means is that we consider all women in the sex industry to be victims of CSE whether or not they had been “trafficked” in the classic sense.

We recognize that just because a woman wasn’t physically “forced” to be sold for sex doesn’t mean there weren’t other compelling forces drawing her into this place of degradation.

Ultimately, the difference between CSE and sex trafficking is that CSE is inclusive, and doesn’t distinguish between “force” and “choice”—it understands that all commercial sex is inherently harmful and exploitative, and the sex industry as a whole is a system of violence against those being sold.

What’s also clear is that those who end up being sold in the sex industry are among the most vulnerable in our society—yet the profiteers of this industry try to disguise this reality by promoting the idea of the “empowered sex worker.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Rachel Moran, a sex industry survivor who is now a powerful advocate, writer, and speaker explains:

“People view prostitution and trafficking as distinct because they want to, because they need to, or because they’ve been taught to—or perhaps a combination of all of the above. But women like myself understand, through our personal lived experience, that these are not two different individualised experiences. They are not distinct and separate and wholly apart at all, and the only real difference of note is that a woman prostituted through destitution or the fear of it can never say ‘I was forced’. She can never say that because the world will never accept that, and she, consequently, must deal with a far greater weight of shame than the woman who can say she was physically forced.

I think we need to really examine, as a people, what we understand about the concepts of choice and force, and I think that until we do, we will never be able to decipher that murky hinterland with which the vast majority of prostituted women are intimately familiar; that place that bridges the gap between wanting to and having to; that place where so many women must occupy before they make a decision that is not a decision, a choice that is not a choice. It is a place that is imbued with a certain heaviness; the weight of an oppressive and secret force.

It is currently largely unrecognised—but it needs to be recognised. It needs to be unmasked. It needs to be understood for what it is. Because, as I have written in my memoir ‘It is a very human foolishness to insist on the presence of a knife or a gun or a fist in order to recognise the existence of force, when often the most compelling forces on this earth present intangibly, in coercive situations.’”1

What Ms. Moran is hitting on with her statement, is the need for us as an abolition movement to move beyond defining women in prostitution as either “worthy” or “unworthy” of our help and compassion depending on whether they can be classified as “trafficked” or “not trafficked.”

Statistics show that the majority of all women in prostitution face extreme violence, post traumatic stress disorder, and rape.

Statistics show that the majority of all women in prostitution face extreme violence, post traumatic stress disorder, and rape. Women in prostitution also have one of the highest rates of murder. The commonly cited reasons of why they get involved in this abusive industry are issues of poverty, prior sexual abuse, homelessness, and other social and economic vulnerabilities.

For this reason, we at Exodus Cry—and other wonderful anti-trafficking organizations—have realized that making an impact in the realm of sex trafficking cannot exclude addressing the entire sex industry as a whole. We wholeheartedly support the abolition of sex trafficking and the restoration of sex trafficking victims, as well as the abolition of the entire commercial sex industry and restoration for all victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Join us in the fight to abolish commercial sexual exploitation! We are looking for committed individuals to join our Wilberforce Initiative Facebook group, as well as those who will donate to help fuel the cause.

Stay tuned for future posts where we explore how stripping and pornography, which also constitute CSE, are built on a foundation of exploitation.

Footnotes

  • 1. http://theprostitutionexperience.com/

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