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The hidden reality: Insights into perpetrators of commercial sexual exploitation of children

May 29, 2024

Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) remains a critical child rights issue in Brazil, especially in the Recife Metropolitan Area, where its prevalence is estimated as one in six young women having survived the experience (2024). However, both in Brazil and worldwide, there is very little evidence about the profile of individuals who perpetrate commercial sex acts with children or the individuals involved in the chain of CSEC facilitation.

A newly released study, produced by Promundo Institute and The Freedom Fund, uses mixed research methods to explore the profiles of both perpetrators and intermediaries. The study also explores possible social norms that either permit or sanction CSEC, as well as under what conditions these norms may apply. This research and the wider program are funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Combat and Monitor Trafficking in Persons.

Key findings include:

  • Almost half of surveyed men (49.4%) believed that if a close friend had the opportunity to pay for sex with an adolescent, knowing there would be no repercussions, he would do so.
  • Nearly one in five (19.0%) surveyed men admitted to having a friend that they knew had paid adolescents for sex in the last year.
  • Despite an overwhelming agreement that CSEC is deviant, gendered social norms that tolerate sex between adults and children were evident, especially when involving men and adolescent girls aged 14 and older.
  • Although the possibility of criminal action was understood to deter some potential perpetrators, faith in formal justice mechanisms was typically very low.

The hidden reality: Insights into perpetrators of commercial sexual exploitation of children in the Recife Metropolitan Area, Brazil (2024) looks at the ways that  profit and power normalise CSEC and other forms of gender-based violence, and elevates the voices of civil society stakeholders and survivors in setting forth recommendations to deter the perpetration of CSEC.

Click below to access the report in English or Portuguese.



The Freedom Fund (May 2024). Um enfoque sobre as vitimas invisíveis: Crianças e adolescentes envolvidas no comercio sexual na região metropolitana de Recife, Pernambuco, Brasil. Available at:

Written by
The Freedom Fund