How to integrate a gender-sensitive approach in working with boys at risk and survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse.


Given that programmatic responses to identify and meet the particular needs of boys are scarce, ECPAT International launched the Global Boys Initiative (GBI) to explore the sexual exploitation of boys and the services available for their protection. The Global Boys Initiative embarked on a series of research projects in countries around the world to shed light on understanding the scale of sexual exploitation taking place with boys, vulnerability and risk factors, barriers to disclosure and access to services, and what we need to improve prevention and response strategies. With the completion of the Initiative’s first phase of research, we can now speak with confidence on a number of pressing issues related to the sexual exploitation of boys, successfully consolidating what we know to influence and frame the agenda for programming, advocacy and new research. We know that the sexual exploitation of boys is a global problem and have gathered information on key drivers, risk situations, gender norms, barriers to access, among other things. We are now focusing on how to address these challenges and how to support boys and service providers in the fight against sexual exploitation.

In July 2022, we began a process of mobilising ECPAT members, partners and practitioners working with boys in different regions of the world to inform them about the GBI, explore possibilities for implementing the Initiative at country and regional levels, and capitalise on members and partners’ experiences in working with boys.

In discussions with First Step Leicester in the United Kingdom, several points of interest and learning were identified as relevant to the success of the GBI nationally and globally. These included the documentation of the work with boy and male survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation and how to provide assistance that helps the survivors in dealing with the emotional impact cause by these issues.

To this end, the aim was to document the working practices of direct assistance to boy and other male survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation in the United Kingdom in order to capitalise on these experiences, to encourage learning from other organisations in other countries around the world, and to feed into GBI’s practical knowledge – thus contributing to answering the global question: “how can we work with male children at risk or survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse in a gender-sensitive approach?”


First Step Leicester (FSL) is an organisation run for male survivors (aged 13+)1 and their supporters of sexual abuse and rape founded in 1997. It provides free confidential services to boy and man survivors of sexual abuse and their supporters living in the city of Leicester and the surrounding counties of Leicestershire and Rutland to enable survivors to make the “first step” towards feeling less isolated through increased personal power to make choices.

FSL’s vision is a society where male survivors feel safe to share their experiences and are supported to move their lives forward. FSL offers specialist counselling and emotional support for boys aged 13-18 years and to man survivors who have experienced child sexual abuse or other forms of sexual violence, including sexual exploitation. FSL also offers an advocacy service where survivors can be supported in accessing social protection, legal, reintegration, professional and education services, inter alia. The counselling sessions are offered weekly for free during a period of 6 months and support is provided in identifying more service options following this timeframe, including peer support groups at FSL or referrals to specialised services.

It is important to note that FSL seeks to provide a free, confidential and safe counselling service that does not represent a substitute to a full child protection case management process, but rather an additional instrument in the process of recuperation and resilience of boy survivors. The services provided to boys are therefore confidential and safe, and referral mechanisms are activated upon rigorous risk assessments of the individual situation of each child and where referrals could protect the child from an immediate or important danger to his full safety. The age is stated by the children during the assessment session. Supporters are the families of the boy and man survivors, which can include parents, caregivers and partners.

Read or download full report here.