The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) guarantees that children have the right to live free from all types of violence. The sexual exploitation of children is a grave violation of children’s rights with devastating long-term consequences. Research on this subject is growing. However, most of it centres on girls, neglecting the needs, experiences and perspectives of boys as well as youth who identify outside the gender binary (Adjei & Saewyc, 2017; Cockbain et al., 2017; Hebert, 2016; Mitchell et al., 2017). The lack of data on the sexual exploitation of boys reflects a dearth of research on all experiences of sexual violence against boys. Expanding the scope of this research is a critical step in ensuring that all children’s rights can be protected.
To strengthen the existing evidence base, this literature review examines: (1) the magnitude, causes, risk factors and consequences of the sexual exploitation of boys and (2) ethical and methodological challenges that pervade research on this topic. Eligible studies included quantitative and qualitative research published in English from 1999 to March 2020. As discussed in later sections, a wide range of terms are used by researchers to describe the sexual exploitation of boys, complicating the process of conducting a comprehensive literature review. Given challenges regarding terminology, multiple search terms were used, including sexual exploitation, commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. Studies focusing exclusively on male minors were prioritized. However, due to the paucity of research, the report includes studies involving youth more broadly and/or that speak to the experiences of male victims, which sometimes included those over the age of 18. The review does not claim to synthesize all of the available literature on this complex topic, but rather to highlight key issues that should be considered when conducting research on the sexual exploitation of boys.