A global systematic scoping review of literature on the sexual exploitation of boys Journal Articles uri icon

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  • BACKGROUND: Sexual exploitation of children (SEC) is a widespread crime which impacts the child victim across developmental, health and well-being domains. As victims, boys have received much less clinical and research attention. While context-specific factors likely shape the SEC risk, under-recognized gender norms can deny boys' vulnerability. Professional failures to recognize and respond adequately to boys' sexual exploitation may prevent access to support. OBJECTIVE: This systematic scoping review updates and broadens a previous review of literature addressing prevalence, victim/offender/facilitator characteristics, control mechanisms, as well as the health correlates and outcomes regarding sexual exploitation of boys. This review included international peer-reviewed and gray literature from 38 countries in 14 languages. PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: Studies from the years 2000 to 2022 that included samples of boys under age 18, or sex-disaggregated data for children under 18, were included. Case studies, systematic reviews, and those reporting on retrospective experiences by adults over 18 were excluded. A total of 254,744 boys were represented across 81 studies. METHODS: A systematic scoping review considered qualitative and quantitative peer-reviewed publications from eight, English-language databases. English and non-English non-peer reviewed publications ('gray literature') was identified by both ECPAT International's global network of member organizations and citation chaining. RESULTS: Overall, 81 peer-reviewed (n = 51) and gray literature (n = 30) documents from 38 countries were included. In total, 254,744 youth participated in peer-reviewed studies (N = 217,726) and gray literature (N = 37,018). General prevalence of sexual exploitation of boys was reported at up to 5 %, with higher rates noted in specifically vulnerable sub-populations (e.g., 10 %, trans youth; 26 %, street-connected youth). The literature indicates that sexual exploitation of boys is reported as occurring primarily between 12 and 18 years old. Multi-level factors are linked to SEC, including individual (e.g., disability status), relationship (e.g., child maltreatment, dating violence), community (e.g., community violence), and societal domains (e.g., discriminatory beliefs). SEC victimization is linked with youth mental and physical health concerns, particularly sexual health. Post-traumatic stress symptomatology or disorder was rarely evaluated. Evidence-based treatments were not available, which may be related to a lack of gender-based theoretical models for understanding SEC specifically. CONCLUSION: The sexual exploitation of boys is a prevalent public health, child rights, and clinical issue. All young people experiencing sexual exploitation face sex- and gender-specific challenges, and this remains the case for boys with indications including family rejection, implicit community tolerance for abuse to service accessibility barriers. Actioning our duty to care for all children requires gender- and trauma-informed lenses. Ongoing surveillance of all forms of violence against children, with gender disaggregation, is essential for practice and policy advancement.


  • Moss, Corinne
  • Smith, Savanah Jordan
  • Kim, Katherine
  • Hua, Nicholas
  • Noronha, Noella
  • Kavenagh, Mark
  • Wekerle, Christine

publication date

  • August 2023