A world without sexual exploitation 

Five words. One vision. 

It is the defining purpose of a movement that has united people across generations and geography, and it is the beating heart of our work as CEASE. 

It is also – let’s be clear – outrageous.  

Nonsensically ambitious and absolutely necessary. 

Anything less diminishes the truth, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that, “all humans have equal worth, humanity, and therefore equal rights to safety and the capacity to flourish”. Anything less diminishes the suffering of millions of women and girls who have been abused through systems of sexual exploitation. Anything less colludes with the status quo, and a hopelessness that breeds despair. 

I sometimes imagine that we stand, facing forward with one foot in the present and one foot in the future.  

In the present we work pragmatically, negotiating, adapting and strategizing for incremental change. We break this dream down into its constituent parts, working out which bit of the problem is ours to take on, and which bit of the system is most likely to yield. In the present, we recognise that sexual exploitation is hideously entangled with a series of other man-made monsters, not least poverty, racism and gender inequality.  

But the other foot is planted firmly in the future.  

From this vantage point, women and children have no reason to fear sexual abuse, violence, exploitation or harassment. I have always loved a line by the poet R.S Thomas, who imagines a world where “industry is for mending the bent bones and the minds fractured by life.”  With one foot planted in the future we are fighting for, we can see a world where the energy, ingenuity and entrepreneurship of the technology industry is directed toward the goal of human flourishing, and the safety of women and girls is both assumed and achieved.   

What if industry was for mending? 

Between the gritty present and this vision of the future, is our capacity to imagine the steps it will take to get us there.  

This capacity to imagine the pathway is critical. It is what grounds our idealism and prevents us becoming naive in our optimism. It is why we are prepared to get mired in the detail of Ofcom consultation documents and codes of practice, that run to hundreds of pages, outlining how the Online Safety Act will be implemented and enforced. Arguing for a definition of what counts as ‘highly effective’ age verification on websites carrying pornography may seem like a tiny detail in the global fight against sexual exploitation. But it is the fight that we’ve picked, because we know that this small change is another step down the road to the ultimate change we are seeking. 

The journey toward a world without sexual exploitation is a journey of a thousand miles.  

Together, we take the next step.