Over the past week, abolitionists and activists from across the globe have been tuning in to the annual National Centre on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) conference Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation. Due to Covid-19, the conference has been proceeding via online presentations, but this has in no way diminished the extraordinary, diverse, and powerful talks and panel discussions that have taken place.

From panel discussions about how best to take legal action against the commercial sex industry, to presentations about the similarities in trauma  experienced by those in prostitution compared to those suffering domestic violence it has been a fantastically informative series of events, and undoubtedly this will continue through to its culmination on the 28 July.

Our mission statement here at CEASE treads a similar path to that of the conference, in that we seek to educate the public on the multiple links and connections between all forms of sexual exploitation – including prostitution, trafficking, pornography, and child sexual abuse – and the urgent human rights disaster that is playing out as a result, in front of our very eyes. It was heartening, therefore, to listen to the superb presentation by Benjamin Nolot of Exodus Cry highlighting the inherent links between the fertile soil of porn culture that encourages the wider commercial sex industry to grow and thrive.

Nolot highlighted the fact that it is demand that acts as the root of sexual exploitation; in the vast, global network of sexual exploitation, it is the demand that subsequently necessitates the sale of women and children. When human bodies are reduced to commodities, they are subject to the same laws of supply and demand as every other product. For something to be sold, there must be a buyer.

Further, it was highlighted that the narrative of “empowering sex work” is simply a cover story often created by those who control and enslave others within the wider sex industry. In sanitising the reality of the systemically racist, misogynist, violent, and abusive porn and prostitution industries by bringing it under the moniker of “work” is to condemn those trapped within them to further exploitation.

Here at CEASE, we believe that any attempt to re-brand pornography and prostitution as work is antithetical to wishing to see an end to sexual exploitation. Normalising these industries built on the abuse and exploitation of the most vulnerable serves to entrench not only the industries themselves, but also the attitudes that fuel demand in the first place.

It is heartening to see so many activists come together to condemn and work against this new wave of exploitation-apologetics, and to draw attention to the true horror of the commercial sex industry. But, the problem is vast and the scale is global and it will take many, many individuals to stand up and speak out if we are to see concrete change to laws, policies and ultimately peoples’ lives. Now is the time to join the movement to end sexual exploitation.

The CESE Summit is free to attend and runs from now until Tues 28 July.