Public awareness can eliminate sexual exploitation

02 March 2023, 02:12 pm | Updated: 02 June 2023, 08:37 pm

Public awareness can eliminate sexual exploitation

The world day of the fight against sexual exploitation is observed on March 4 every year to raise awareness against sexual exploitation against women and children. Every day countless women, girls and adolescents fall into the trap of international criminal networks. These criminals sexually assault them, traffic them and enslave them.

According to individuals and organizations working on sexual exploitation, sexual harassment refers to unwanted touching of the sensitive parts of the body of women, girls or adolescents, as well as attempts at unauthorized sexual activity. Forcing someone to engage in sexual activity or sexual desire against their will is also called sexual exploitation.

Women, girls and adolescents are victims of sexual exploitation at home and abroad. It is a social disorder. No one is spared from this unethical practice, from children to older people. Although women in many countries can move freely, they are sexually assaulted or harassed in various places such as homes, schools, colleges, universities, roads, vehicles, footpaths or public places.

UN Women notes that an average of eight people are trapped in international criminal networks for sexual exploitation, trafficking and slavery every second daily. Sexual harassment is one of the worst ways to treat a human being because it takes away his basic human rights - freedom, dignity and even the right to control his body.

The problem is ubiquitous, but sexual assault is more prevalent in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Trafficked women, girls and teenagers from these countries are taken to developed countries for prostitution.

The saddest thing is, in most cases, the victims of sexual exploitation keep the sexual abuse a secret. Because they think there is no one to help them. Even when they talk about it, they are often not believed and are at greater risk of mental, social and physical problems. So they choose to remain silent - which perpetuates the problem.

Experts also believe that many people do not have an accurate knowledge of what sexual harassment is. As a result, many engage in behaviour that amounts to sexual harassment. Again, in many cases, the victim is unaware of it and avoids it. As a result, sexual exploitation becomes difficult to eradicate from society.

Sexual exploitation can take many forms. For example, through visual or visible objects like, if someone displays or sends unwanted sexually graphic or pornographic material in the form of posters, cartoons, drawings, pictures and animations etc., it falls under the category of sexual exploitation.

Sexual exploitation also means physical abuse. For example, touching someone's private parts, intimidation for sex, making indecent gestures, standing around someone's body, unwanted kisses and hugs, etc. Sexual harassment is also verbal, such as inappropriate sexual jokes, making unacceptable noises such as whistling, kissing noises or wet lips, showing tongues, using abusive language and calling someone offensive names, etc.

According to International Labor Organization (ILO) research, millions of people are trafficked for sexual exploitation yearly, and 98 per cent are young girls and adolescents. The rate of these sexual crimes is increasing day by day.

According to UNICEF, about one million people are victims of sexual exploitation yearly. Among them are not only women and girl children but also young boys and young men. More than 3 million children are forced into prostitution worldwide.

Human trafficking is now a very lucrative multi-billion-dollar business. According to a BBC report, every year, more than two and a half million people travel abroad for sex tourism to have sex with young children. This money-making business is fueling the rise of child prostitution around the world.

Women, children and teenagers are now being sexually harassed online as well. A study by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University published last year showed that 64 per cent of women and 56 per cent of adolescents who use the Internet in the country have been victims of online sexual harassment.

Online sexual pestering among urban children is one and a half times higher than that of teenagers in rural areas. Adolescents who use electronic devices and social media like Facebook, TikTok, WhatsApp and chatrooms are more likely to be victims of online sexual harassment. More than 50 per cent of the adolescents who participated in the study were unaware of the relevant laws.

A survey conducted at the university level shows that 76 per cent of female students experience some form of sexual harassment during their university life. Among them, 87 per cent of government universities, 66 per cent of private universities, and 54 per cent of medical colleges were victims of sexual harassment. In addition, 19 per cent of women engaged in various professions were victims of sexual exploitation.

Gender equality is a fundamental human right and a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable future, meaning a world where women and men, girls and boys all enjoy equal rights, resources, opportunities and protection. Yet, gender bias makes this impossible. Many women face gender discrimination in their workplace, and some women face domestic violence and abuse.

As mentioned, women or men can be a victim of sexual harassment. However, women, girls and teenagers are more victims. Women and girls, victims of sexual exploitation, do not dare to speak about it due to the dominance of the patriarchal system in society, culture, religious rules and faulty social structures. In many cases, they cannot even protest. Because if they oppose, they are blamed instead.

Concerned people also think there is not enough initiative to establish the rule of law to prevent sexual exploitation in the country. Although many cases of sexual harassment take place in educational institutions, especially in schools and colleges, it goes unreported. The school-college management committee covered up those incidents. If someone complains, on the contrary, she has to be harassed. There is no committee to prevent sexual harassment in any school or college in Bangladesh, including Dhaka.

Although the government and private initiatives have taken various steps in this regard, the expected results are not coming. In addition to law enforcement, experts say, increasing awareness programmes, structural reforms, and changing negative attitudes towards women are also important. Structural reforms include reducing the disparity between men and women, eradicating poverty, and ensuring equal access for men and women by reducing inequalities in education, health care, employment and other areas, etc.

According to experts, awareness is essential to eradicate sexual exploitation from society. Public awareness is crucial on this vital issue. The more awareness can be created in the family, society and educational institutions, the more incidents like sexual harassment will be eliminated. That's why everyone should stand against sexual harassment from their respective fields.

To stop sexual exploitation in public and private initiatives, people from different levels of society, including the victims, must take joint initiatives in their management. Act as a responsible citizen in addition to law enforcement to eliminate sexual harassment. We should not stay silent and protest if such an incident happens somewhere. If necessary, law enforcement should be informed. It will be possible to eliminate this crime from society if those involved in sexual harassment are brought under strict punishment.

The main objective of the world day of the fight against sexual exploitation is to spread awareness about the growing prevalence of sexual exploitation worldwide. The day is observed every year to raise awareness. Sexual exploitation is a serious issue that must be brought up. Talk about it openly. Because till now, this issue is not often discussed, and proper action is not taken. Celebrating this day ensures that the problem is highlighted and spoken against, and governments are encouraged to take appropriate action.

Dr Matiur Rahman: A researcher and development worker

Category : Opinion