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.
- 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.
- 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.
- At the time the respondents started having sex for money 81% were
living away from either of their parents.
- The age the respondents first received payment for a sexual
activity ranged from under 10 years to 17 years. The average age was
- Half had been having sex for a year or less before they first had
sex for money.
- The average age when consenting sex began was 13.5 years old.
- Fifty-nine percent of respondents disclosed childhood sexual
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Half of participants who drank “lots” always used condoms when
they were paid for sex and a further 8 nearly always used condoms.
- 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
- There is an increase in the use of drugs and the amount consumed
after initiation into commercial sexual activities.
- 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%)
- When participants began having consensual sex early, they were
more likely to have commenced heavier alcohol consumption and more
frequent drug use.
- There was an increase in the number of participants consuming
more alcohol subsequent to initiation into commercial sexual activity.
- 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.
- 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.
- Twenty-one of the respondents (45%) were asked to be photographed
and were under the age of 18 years of age at the time.
- 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.
- 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
10 February 2004