Underage commercial sexual activity

ECPAT 2003 Abstract
This study explores the factors leading to the first involvement of a young person in underage prostitution. The target group were sex workers who began commercial sexual activities before the age of 18. Questions focussed on the first time payment was received for sex. The respondents outlined the factors leading to this first involvement. In a majority of cases other people were influential in guiding under 18 year olds into commercial sex. They generally received advice with regard to setting a price. The first client was most frequently a businessman. Four fifths of the respondents had tried to stop having sex for money but most recommenced due to lack of money.

Executive Summary ECPAT NZ 2004
This research was carried out as part of New Zealand’s Plan of Action against the Commercial Sexual exploitation of Children. The Ministry of Justice presented this document at the 2001 Second World Congress Against the Commercial; Sexual Exploitation of Children in Yokohama.

  1. The 47 respondents in the survey ranged in age from 15 – 47 years with an average age of 24 years. All began receiving payment for sex before eighteen years of age.
  2. The sample consisted of Gender:- 37 females, 3 males and 7 male-to-female transgenders Ethnicity: 20 Pakeha (43%), 19 Maori (40%), 5 Pacific Peoples (11%), and 3 European (6%) immigrants in the sample.
  3. At the time the respondents started having sex for money 81% were living away from either of their parents.
  4. The age the respondents first received payment for a sexual activity ranged from under 10 years to 17 years. The average age was 14.5 years.
  5. Half had been having sex for a year or less before they first had sex for money.
  6. The average age when consenting sex began was 13.5 years old.
  7. Fifty-nine percent of respondents disclosed childhood sexual abuse.
  8. The first act of sex for payment occurred in a variety of situations such as in cars, parks, on the street or in motels, parlours or rooms. Young people over the age of 15 were more likely to begin in parlours.
  9. In over half of the instances (56%), the client, pimp, parlour, gang or an older woman had set the price for sexual acts. In spite of the illegality, 28% had the price set by a parlour and 36% committed their first act of sex for money in a parlour or as an escort.
  10. The influence of other people in the process of becoming involved in underage commercial sexual activity is highlighted by the fact that almost half the respondents said a female friend or an older female suggested it.
  11. Half of the respondents said they always used condoms when they first started having sex for money. About a fifth used them occasionally or less. Condoms were used less frequently in situations where a pimp or client set the price or where a lot of alcohol was consumed.
  12. A third of the respondents said that they set the price themselves but most of them had the idea of performing sex for money suggested to them by some other person.
  13. Over half the respondents described their first paid sex as being with a business man considerably older than themselves and most of the paid sex was with older men.
  14. Three-quarters had been forced to have sex when they did not want to. For over a third it had happened on more than one occasion. A condom was not usually used and few received assistance unless they had gone to hospital.
  15. Two-thirds of the participants reported drinking “lots” when they were having sex for money. There is an increase in the consumption of alcohol from 38% prior to initiation into commercial sexual activities to 66% after their involvement.
  16. Half of participants who drank “lots” always used condoms when they were paid for sex and a further 8 nearly always used condoms.
  17. All those who began commercial sexual activity under 16 years of age used drugs on an occasional or frequent basis during the time they were paid for sex. Sixty eight percent were regular users of drugs, and only two had not used drugs at all while involved in commercial sexual activity.
  18. There is an increase in the use of drugs and the amount consumed after initiation into commercial sexual activities.
  19. Participants who disclosed childhood sexual abuse were more likely to consume a large amount of alcohol and drugs when they were later engaged in commercial sexual activity (74%) compared to participants who did not disclose childhood sexual abuse (55%)
  20. When participants began having consensual sex early, they were more likely to have commenced heavier alcohol consumption and more frequent drug use.
  21. There was an increase in the number of participants consuming more alcohol subsequent to initiation into commercial sexual activity.
  22. Just over a third (35%) of participants had experienced thoughts of suicide. This is higher than current research which suggests suicidal ideation occurs in about 29% of females and 17% of males in New Zealand.
  23. The younger the respondents were when they began having sex for money the higher the number of respondents who reported suicidal thoughts. The high numbers who had experienced childhood sexual assault, a known contributing factor in suicidal ideation, clouds this.
  24. Twenty-one of the respondents (45%) were asked to be photographed and were under the age of 18 years of age at the time.
  25. Four fifths of the respondents had tried to stop having sex for money but only about one fifth succeeded. Money was the main reason the respondents cited for returning to commercial sexual activity after they had tried to stop.
  26. Over half of the respondents advised other young people, who might be thinking about having sex for money, not to do it and to check out alternative options.

NB The nature of the sample prevents trends expressed by the data from being generalised to cover all young people who become involved in underage commercial sexual activity.

Miriam Saphira PhD DipEd Psych DipClinPsych Averil Herbert PhD DipClinPsych
10 February 2004

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