February 9th 2004
The Involvement of Children in Commercial Sexual Activity
Miriam Saphira PhD DipEd Psych DipClinPsych
Averil Herbert PhD DipClinPsych
This study explores the factors leading to the first involvement of a young person in underage prostitution. The target
group were sex workers who began commercial sexual activities before the age of 18. Questions focussed on the first time
payment was received for sex. The respondents outlined the factors leading to this first involvement. In a majority of
cases other people were influential in guiding under 18 year olds into commercial sex. They generally received advice
with regard to setting a price. The first client was most frequently a businessman. Four fifths of the respondents had
tried to stop having sex for money but most recommenced due to lack of money.
It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 years old to be prostituted (Prostitution Reform Act 2003 Sections 20--23).
The illegal status of this activity and the consequent secrecy and deceit surrounding it make it difficult to obtain
accurate information. The relative absence in the literature of children's own accounts of commercial sexual activity
highlights the powerlessness of young people (Shaw & Butler, 1998). The New Zealand Government attended the Second World Congress Against Commercial Exploitation of
Children in Yokohama in 2001 and presented the New Zealand National Plan of Action. ECPAT NZ was designated the
organisation to carry out research into the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Initially ECPAT NZ conducted a national survey of counsellors and welfare agencies and found over 195 known cases of
underage commercial sexual activity. Children under 16 years of age were involved in 145 of these cases (Saphira, 2001).
As most children being prostituted do not come to the attention of professionals, this figure was thought to represent
only a small proportion of those involved. Commercial sexual activity involving children was reported in country
districts and provincial towns as well as large cities. The Young in Oslo study in Norway in 1996 attempted to obtain
prevalence figures (Pederson & Hegna, 2002). This study mapped all young people in the mid-teen age group and found that 2.1% of males and .6% of
females had been paid for sex (Pederson & Hegna, 2002). Recent youth research in New Zealand did not include a question on money for sex (Youth2000, 2003).
The clinics for sexually transmitted diseases reported that a small number of underage youth present themselves. Clinic
workers suggested that number represented only a percentage of actual activity. They believed that young people do not
present for fear of prosecution or entrapment (Ministry of Social Development (2003). It is suggested that fear of the
authorities may be causing young people to put their lives in danger by not seeking help for illicit drug usage and the
treatment of diseases.
A recent study of 303 sex workers in the Christchurch area identified 12 workers under the age of 18 years. All but one
were working on the streets (Plumridge & Abel, 2001). Of significance is the fact that 31% of the total number of these sex workers became involved in
prostitution when they were under the age of 18 years. In a qualitative study of six gender liminal youth, the ages
reported were young, four of the six were under 15 years old, (Worth, 2000). Of the 194 young people in the ECPAT NZ
survey, 10% were 12 years old or under, 15% were 13 years old, 20% were 14 years old and 30% were 15 years old (Saphira,
2001). It is not known at what age they started sex work.
One New Zealand study of 29 sex workers from Dunedin found that the sex workers were more likely to have had difficult
early developmental experiences with more interpersonal challenges and more penetrative sexual abuse as children than a
community sample of women of similar age (Potter, Martin & Romans, 1999). They were more likely to have left home early, left school early with lower qualifications and to have
had an earlier pregnancy than the control group. While this does not indicate a causal effect, the author suggests there
may be some linkage. The researchers did not ask the women how they got involved in sex work at such a young age
(Potter, Martin & Romans, 1999).
An Australian national inquiry into commercial sexual activity found the main reasons for engaging in sex for money
included the need to obtain drugs, accommodation, money and food (Grant, Grabosky & David, 1999). Other reasons cited were fear of violence, peer pressure and poor judgement (Martyn, 1998). Some young
people also mentioned emotional contact and said that commercial sexual activity was a “tool for companionship” (Martyn,
1998). The influence of peer pressure is well documented for teenagers but it may be stronger for adolescent street
youth (Unger, Simon, Newman, Montgomery, Kipke, & Albornoz, 1998; Adalf & Zdanowicz, 1999). Peer pressure has also been associated with delinquent peer glory (Vitaro, Tremblay, Kerr, Pagani & Bukowski, 1997).
In commercial sexual matters, teenagers lack not only a cognitive understanding of the transaction and its long term
consequences, but they also lack the sexual maturity (both physically and socio-emotionally) to engage in a fully
competent manner (Johnson, 1999). Young people have a greater risk than adults of contracting sexually transmitted
diseases. This risk is further increased by early sexual activity and multiple partners (Lemmey & Tice, 2000). In addition, the sexual activity is often rough which can cause internal damage and tissue tears. In
females it can easily destroy the normal vaginal and infection barriers ((Lemmey & Tice, 2000). Even if teenagers have the knowledge, Fitzgerald (1997) reports that they are still unlikely to negotiate
effectively with adult males. Young people engaged in commercial sexual activity may also be coping with depression
(Pyett & Warr, 1996), a sense of entrapment (Wilson & Arnold, 1986) and self harm and risk taking (Stewart,1994; Tschirren, Hammet & Saunders, 1996).
A study of six transgender sex workers in Auckland’s Karangahape Road indicated that they may have become involved with
sex work as part of the process of developing their sexual identity (Worth, 2000). One said it was difficult to get into
sex work because the older girls would “bash you up” but she had been helped by an Auntie who worked the street. One
began in Fiji at 11 years old; another when she ran away after a beating and needed money to survive; another had
watched drag queens and felt a strong affinity for them. It has been suggested that transgender people may turn to sex
work because it is difficult for them to obtain employment dressed as women (Boles & Elifson, 1994). Two transgender people in the Karangahape Road study were on a benefit but felt they could not survive
without doing sex work.
Cusick (2002) suggests that the most common route to commercial sexual activity appears to be through an introduction by
a friend (Jesson, 1993; O’Neill et al., 1995). Swann (1999) describes a scenario in which a young woman becomes
dependent on her boyfriend, becomes isolated, is introduced to drugs, subjected to violence and becomes trapped. She
finds it difficult to admit the relationship is abusive and blames herself. Palmer (2002) says that none of the boys
involved in prostitution is making truly informed choices. They are victims of predatory adults. Feelings of loss of
control and low self worth coupled with early emotional distress may lead to too few options for making choices (Kidd & Kraal, 2002). In an address to the United Nations, New Zealand recognised that two categories of children are
particularly vulnerable. These are children in lower socio-economic groups and children of indigenous people (Ministry
of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2001).
The following study set out to uncover what factors surrounded young people’s first involvement with commercial sexual
A questionnaire was developed in consultation with medical and psychological researchers including Maori, the Auckland
Ethics Committee, and Maori Community Workers in South Auckland. Members of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective and
the staff from sexual health clinics in Auckland and Waikato also viewed the questionnaire with opportunity for comment.
The Auckland Health Ethics Committee altered the questionnaire before its final acceptance.
Some of the questions included were:
If you were not living with your parents at the time you started having sex for money who were you living with?
When you had sex for money did you use condoms? Please circle one
Never Seldom Sometimes Nearly always Always
Thinking about the first time you had sex for money? Where did it happen?
How old were you?
How did you set the price?
Were most of your clients teenagers?
How much sexual experience had you had before the first time you had sex for money?
The questionnaire was distributed through a network. Completed questionnaires were returned from massage parlours,
escort agencies, private workers, and from street workers and former workers who were recruited via a snowballing
technique where one participant refers another and some street workers were approached directly. A clinical psychologist
using the same set of questions interviewed some street and parlour workers.
The 47 respondents ranged in age from 15–47 years with an average age of 24 years. Maori respondents tended on the
average to be younger. The sample consisted of 37 females, 3 males and 7 male-to-female transgenders. Some females may
have been transgender but considered themselves more female. Those early in the transition seemed to call themselves
male and those who were more developed called themselves transgender or female. One interviewee was proud of her
hospital bracelet from a recent admission that showed her as female.
There were 20 Pakeha (43%), 19 Maori (40%), 5 Pacific Peoples (11%), and 3 (6%) European immigrants (refer Table I).
Table I Demographics
Ethnicity Gender Northern Region
Female Male Transgender Total % North Statistics*
Pakeha 20 20 43 65%
Maori 13 2 4 19 40 27%
Pacific 1 1 3 5 11 8%
E. Migrant 3 3 6
Total 37 3 7 47 100 100%
*These percentages are for Northland, Auckland and Waikato regions (NZ Census 2001)
Only seven of the group were living with both parents, two were living with their mother, one with an older sister and
the rest were living with other relatives, friends or in foster homes. Most lived in a house or flat. Four stated they
were living on the street.
The average age when consenting sex began was 13.5 years old and the range was 9 – 17 years of age. One woman was
uncertain as to whether she had ever agreed to have sex. The man who had consenting sex with another boy at the age of
nine had been abused at a very young age over a long period of time. He was very clear that he was consenting on this
Table II First Consenting Sex and Parental Contact
First Consenting Sex * With whom they were living
Both Parents Mother Elsewhere Total
Under 12 years old 1 3 4 8%
12 –13 years old 4 2 15 21 45%
14 –15 years old 1 1 13 15 32%
16-17 years old 1 6 7 15%
Total 7 3 37 47 100%
Total 15% 6% 79% 100%
*The law does not allow children under 13 years old to give consent due to their lack of cognitive ability to give
Fifty-nine percent of respondents disclosed childhood sexual abuse. There were ethnic differences in the rate of
disclosure. Seventy four percent of Maori disclosed sexual abuse as a child compared to 40% Pakeha and 60% Pacific
People,. This may be related to openness to disclose in a one-off interview rather than actual rates in the community.
There may be under-reporting due to forgetting and to an unwillingness to acknowledge abuse, particularly incestuous
abuse (Femina, Yaeger & Lewis, 1990). Both previous studies of prevalence (showing a sexual abuse rate of 10% - 25%) were carried out only on a
South Island population which has a different ethnic mix, less transient people and less crowded urban areas (Anderson,
Martin, Mullen & Roman, 1993; Fergusson, Lynskey & Horwood, 1996; Potter, Martin & Romans, 1999).
Table III Ethnicity and Childhood Sexual Abuse
Ethnicity Childhood Sexual Abuse
No Disclosure Disclosed Abuse Total % Disclosed
Pakeha 12 8 20 40%
Maori 5 14 19 74%
Pacific 2 3 5 60%*
Migrant 1 2 3 66%*
Total 20 27 47
Childhood sexual abuse occurs more frequently in lower socio-economic areas. The recently published Youth 2000 research
which was carried out throughout New Zealand on school pupils aged from 12-17 years, recorded a regional range of 24% -
31% (Adolescent Health Research Group, 2003). The high of 31% was recorded in South Auckland which has the highest child
poverty in New Zealand. All research dealing with the prevalence of sexual abuse depends on the willingness of the
person to disclose the abuse. This may vary with different populations and with different methods of data collection.
Anderson, Martin, Mullen & Roman (1993) reported that 30 women in their control group, who had not disclosed abuse on paper, disclosed abuse when
interviewed. Another 16 women declined to talk about their previous disclosure in the interview. This may indicate a
difficulty in disclosing such personal details in a one-off interview.
The age the respondents had begun to receive payment for a sexual activity ranged from under 10 years to 17 years. The
average age was 14.5 years (see Table IV).
Twenty four respondents (52%) had been having sex for a year or less before they first had sex for money. For two males
it was the first time they had had sex. Twenty two percent had had sex since they were under 10 years old.
Table IV Prior Sexual Experience and Age of Involvement
Sexual Experience Age at Involvement
13 & under 14-15 16 & over Total
A few months 2 5 4 11
About a year 2 2 7 11
Over a year 1 7 4 12
Three years or more 2 1 3 6
Since I was young 2 2 4
First time 2 2
No response 1 1
Total 7 20 20 47
Percentage 15% 42.5% 42.5% 100%
The first act of sex for payment occurred in a variety of situations such as in cars, parks, on the street or in motels,
parlours or rooms (see Table V). Nearly twice as many Europeans as Maori engaged in their first sex act indoors, in
parlours or escort motels (59% Pakeha, 29% Maori) (see Table V). Young people over the age of 15 were more likely to
begin in parlours. Only two under the age of 16 began in parlours (see Table VI).
Table V Place of First Commercial Sexual Activity and Ethnicity
Place of First Commercial Sex Ethnicity
Pakeha Maori Pacific Migrant Total
Car 2 5 2 1 10
Park 2 4 6
Massage parlour 7 3 1 11
Apartment/ house 2 1 1 4
Own home 1 2 1 4
Motel (escort) 3 2 1 6
Street 3 2 1 6
Total 20 19 5 3 47
Percent 43% 40% 11% 6% 100%
In over half of the instances (56%), the price for sexual acts had been set by the client, pimp, parlour, gang or an
older woman. Although it is illegal to employ people under 18 years of age, 28% had the price set by a parlour and 36%
committed their first act of sex for money in a parlour or as an escort.
Table VI Place of First Commercial Sexual Activity and Age
Place it occurred 13 years & under 14-15years old 16-17years old Total
Car 1 5 4 10
Park 1 4 1 6
Massage Parlour 2 9 11
Apartment/ House 1 3 4
Own Home 1 2 1 4
Motel (escort) 2 4 6
Street 2 3 1 6
Total 6 21 20 47
Percentage 13% 45% 42% 100%
Half of the respondents said they always used condoms when they first started having sex for money. About a fifth used
them occasionally or less. Condoms were used less frequently in situations where a pimp or client set the price. A third
of the respondents said that they set the price themselves. This could indicate that they had contact with people
involved in the sex industry who advised them on the price to ask (see Table VII). Most of those who set the price
themselves had had the idea of performing sex for money suggested to them by some other person (see Table VIII).
Table VII Setting the Price and the Use of Condoms
Setting the Price Use of condoms
Never Seldom Sometimes Mostly Always Total
Myself 1 6 9 16 34%
Parlour 1 4 8 13 28%
Client 3 1 2 1 2 9 20%
Friend 1 2 3 6%
Pimp 1 1 1 3 6%
Older woman 1 1 2%
Gang 1 1 2%
Relative 1 1 2%
Total 3 2 4 13 25 47 100%
Percent 6% 4% 9% 28% 53% 100%
Table VIII Influences of Others in Price Setting
Suggested I do Sex for Money Set the price myself
A female friend of the same age 5
A male friend of the same age 2
The client 1
An older male 1
An older female 3
Thought of it myself 3
The influence of other people in the process of becoming involved in underage commercial sexual activity is highlighted
by the fact that almost half the respondents said a female friend or an older female suggested it (see Table IX).
Table IX Influences of Others in Suggesting Involvement
Who Suggested Commercial Sexual Activity Total %
A female friend of the same age 12 26%
Thought of it myself 11 23%
An older female 10 22%
The client 5 11%
An older male 3 6%
A male friend of the same age 2 4%
Newspaper advertisement 2 4%
Relative 2 4%
Total 47 100%
*Percentages are rounded up and weighted for lower numbers
Eleven of the sample of 47 reported that they thought of getting into the sex industry themselves but only two of those
(18%) set the price themselves (see Table X).
Table X Who Set the Price When it was Their Own Idea
Set the price Thought of it myself
Parlour or agency 6
Over half the respondents described their first client as a business man considerably older than themselves (see Table
XI). Few of them reported any teenagers among their subsequent clients. Commercial sexual activity was generally with an
older age group.
Table XI Men Who Use Young people who are Underage
First Client Young Person’s Age at first Sex for Money
>14yrs 14 -15yrs 16year + Total
Businessman 1 10 13 24 52%
Tradesman 2 6 4 12 26%
Seemed unemployed 1 1 1 3 6%
Pensioner 1 1 2 4%
Gang member 1 1 2%
Taxi-driver 1 1 2%
Teenager 1 1 2%
Can’t remember 1 1 1 3 6%
Total 7 20 20 47 100%
Four fifths of the respondents had tried to stop having sex for money but only about one fifth succeeded (see Table
XII). Money was the main reason the respondents cited for returning to commercial sexual activity after they had tried
to stop. Those who succeeded found a variety of alternatives. Two of the group had it imposed on them when they went to
prison (See Table XIII).
Table XII Reasons for Continuing Commercial Sexual Activity
Returned After Trying to Stop N
Ran out of money 22
Partner made me 2
Had an abusive relationship 2
Moved towns 1
Police threatened me so I stopped 1
Over half of the respondents advised other young people, who might be thinking about having sex for money, not to do it
and to check out alternative options. A third suggested that the young people needed to educate themselves about the
dangers in the sex trade. Three respondents suggested the young people get counselling before they considered entering
into commercial sexual activity.
Table XIII Reasons for Ceasing Commercial Sexual Activity
Reason for stopping Number
Busy doing other work/things 4
Got off drugs 2
Went to prison 2
Got a partner not a pimp 1
Did not like it 1
Recognised the effects 1
Became a Christian 1
Too scared 1
The nature of the sample prevents trends expressed by the data from being generalised to cover all young people who
become involved in commercial sexual activity. Most respondents were clear about the first time they were engaged in sex
for money. One respondent had been paid for sex while at primary school. Her father coached her to have sex for money
from a very early age. In cases like this, the boundaries between child abuse and commercial sexual activity are blurred
(Saphira, 2001). When an offender pays a child before or after sexual abuse, it could be seen to fit into a category of
sex for favours or survival sex. If a child is older than ten and is paid for sex by several offenders, it is more
likely to be classified as an example of underage commercial sexual activity.
This study had a disproportionate number of Maori (40%). This compares to the New Zealand Northland, Auckland and
Waikato rate of 21% (Statistics NZ, 2001) and the combined Youth 2000 samples for the upper North Island of 14%
(Adolescent Health Research Group, 2003). The elevated rate may be due to a high response of South Auckland street
workers. The earlier Christchurch study of 303 sex workers also had a disproportionate percentage of Maori (11%) in
their sample compared to the 7% Maori population in the South island (Plumridge & Abel, 2001). Overseas research indicates that higher numbers of indigenous people are found in the sex trade (Grant,
Grabosky & David, 1999). The New Zealand government has also acknowledged this (MFAT, 2001).
Over three-quarters of the sample in this study were not living with either parent at the time they began commercial
sexual activity. This is a higher number than in the Dunedin study where almost half grew up with both parents (Potter,
Martin & Romans, 1999). The fact that fewer respondents lived with their parents could suggest difficult early developmental
experiences. This is a similar finding to that recorded by the Dunedin respondents (Potter, Martin & Romans, 1999). The Dunedin study found respondents were more likely to have left home early, left school early with
lower qualifications and to have had an earlier pregnancy than the South Island control group of women (Potter, Martin & Romans, 1999). In a literature review, seven of the studies quoted found that “living in local authority care, running
away from home and homelessness were strongly correlated with young people’s entry into prostitution” (Cusick, 2002, p
Young people who have experienced a high rate of abuse and who lack the guidance and security of a stable home could be
very susceptible to suggestion from other people. The idea of commercial sexual activity was suggested to most of the
respondents by others. Even when they thought of it themselves, someone else set the price in all but two instances.
Only a few of the group were living with both parents. Most were living in other situations. A small number lived on the
streets. Some said that when they started commercial sexual activity they moved about, living short term with various
mates. A transient lifestyle and lack of resources would increase their vulnerability. Half of the respondents had had
less than a year of consenting sexual activity before becoming involved in commercial sexual activity. The earlier
trauma and disrupted psycho-social development of these young people would make them vulnerable when confronted with the
social experience and predatory intentions of the sexual exploiter (Davidson, 2001).
The results support previous findings where higher rates of childhood sexual abuse were found among studies of women
involved in commercial sexual activity in Dunedin than in a control group (Potter, Martin & Romans, 1999). The absence of Maori respondents in that study may account for the high disclosure rate in the current
study. Previous prevalence studies of childhood sexual abuse in a general population of South Island women likewise
recorded lower rates of between 15% - 30%. This was in a randomly selected sample of 2,250 women in Dunedin (Anderson,
Martin, Mullen & Roman, 1993; Fergusson, Lynskey & Horwood, 1996). These studies were carried out in Otago and Canterbury areas with fewer Maori (7%). In a study of
school pupils aged 12-17 years old, the National Youth 2000 research reported a range of 25% - 31% of unwanted sexual
touching or activity. The high of 31% was recorded in South Auckland and had 22% Maori participation (Adolescent Health
Research Group, 2003). The rate of childhood abuse in a study of sex workers in Dunedin and Wellington was 36%. Of
these, 25 % reported that complete penetration had occurred (Potter, Martin & Romans, 1999).
Herman (1981) has suggested that childhood sexual abuse can prepare a young girl to be passed about like a chattel as
the young person constructs a system that gives meaning to and justification for her abuse. Childhood sexual abuse has
been correlated with an increased risk for a wide range of mental health problems (including suicidal behaviour,
substance abuse and eating disorders) even when an allowance has been made for family dysfunction (Mullens, Martin,
Anderson, Romans, & Herbison, 1993). Early sexual behaviour has been seen as predictors of underage prostitution (Brannigan & Van Brunschot, 1997). The higher rate childhood sexual abuse for Maori recorded in the current study may be due either
to reduced access to services for healing childhood abuse than for Pakeha or to a higher disclosure rate for Maori. The
higher disclosure rate may be attributable to the presence and support of a Maori community service worker at the time
of interview. Childhood sexual abuse occurs more frequently where there is parental violence and institutional care
(Bifulco, Brown & Adler, 1991). This is in accord with earlier studies that indicated an association with behavioural difficulties,
depression and anxiety (Mullens, Martin, Anderson, Romans, & Herbison,, 1993). These studies suggested that those young people who have suffered genital sexual abuse in childhood
are vulnerable. They may find it difficult to plan ahead and take care of themselves (Briere, 1992). One New Zealand
study found that those who had experienced abuse involving penetration have a worse outcome than the abused group as a
whole (Mullens, Martin, Anderson, Romans, & Herbison,, 1993). Any disruption of family attachments can lead to early sexual behaviour. A negative home life and
sexual precocity have been found to be significant predictors of prostitution (Brannigan & Van Brunschot, 1997).
When they first started commercial sexual activity, half of the respondents said that they always used condoms. About a
fifth used them occasionally or less. Those who said a pimp or client set the price were less likely to use condoms.
This may be indicative of their susceptibility to persuasion. Young people are generally at greater risk of contracting
sexually transmitted diseases than adults. This risk is further increased by early sexual activity and multiple partners
(Lemmey & Tice, 2000).
No respondents engaged with their peer group of other teenagers for their first experience of sex for money. The adults
who used them had more maturity, more social experience, were physically fully developed and brought considerable power
to the situation. Few who remained in commercial sexual activity had paid sex with their peers – the group they should
be relating to developmentally.
Most of the respondents had tried to stop commercial sexual activity but many of them ran out of money. The literature
found that financing addictions (Trinity Youth Options, 1997) and lack of income for living expenses (Hancock, 1994)
were the most frequent reasons for engaging in commercial sexual activity. When they did earn enough money, they found
it difficult to put any aside. Depression (Pyett & Warr, 1996), a sense of entrapment (Wilson & Arnold, 1986) and self harm and risk taking (Stewart,1994; Tschirren, Hammet & Saunders, 1996) have been noted in young people engaged in commercial sexual activity. Of the 13 respondents who
managed to stop commercial sexual activity, four found other work, two went to prison, one found a boyfriend who was not
a pimp and another became a Christian. Many young people engaged in commercial sexual activity find it difficult to
enter stable caring relationships as opposed to abusive exploitative ones (Martyn, 1998). This was observed in some of
the 25 respondents who were interviewed. It is not clear how much this relates to their sex trade experiences and how
much to their earlier childhood experiences of relationships.
Young people who have experienced a high incidence of sexual abuse in early childhood and who are living apart from
their parents may be more susceptible to the suggestion that they can make money from commercial sexual activity.
Indigenous young people appear to be most vulnerable to this form of exploitation. There is a need to provide better
support and health care for young people in distressing home environments and for those who have been subjected to
sexual and physical violence. Enhancing family attachments may decrease early sexual behaviour and drug and alcohol
abuse and allow healing to occur. Multi-agency networking and an increase in law enforcement against those who use young
people for commercial sexual activity would reduce this exploitation of young people.
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Underage Commercial Sexual Activity Executive Summary ECPAT NZ 2004
This research was carried out as part of New Zealand’s Plan of Action against the Commercial Sexual exploitation of
Children. The Ministry of Justice presented this document at the 2001 Second World Congress Against the Commercial;
Sexual Exploitation of Children in Yokohama.
1. The 47 respondents in the survey ranged in age from 15 – 47 years with an average age of 24 years. All began
receiving payment for sex before eighteen years of age.
2. The sample consisted of Gender:- 37 females, 3 males and 7 male-to-female transgenders Ethnicity:- 20 Pakeha (43%),
19 Maori (40%), 5 Pacific Peoples (11%), and 3 European (6%) immigrants in the sample.
3. At the time the respondents started having sex for money 81% were living away from either of their parents.
4. The age the respondents first received payment for a sexual activity ranged from under 10 years to 17 years. The
average age was 14.5 years.
5. Half had been having sex for a year or less before they first had sex for money.
6. The average age when consenting sex began was 13.5 years old.
7. Fifty-nine percent of respondents disclosed childhood sexual abuse.
8. The first act of sex for payment occurred in a variety of situations such as in cars, parks, on the street or in
motels, parlours or rooms. Young people over the age of 15 were more likely to begin in parlours.
9. In over half of the instances (56%), the client, pimp, parlour, gang or an older woman had set the price for sexual
acts. In spite of the illegality, 28% had the price set by a parlour and 36% committed their first act of sex for money
in a parlour or as an escort.
10. The influence of other people in the process of becoming involved in underage commercial sexual activity is
highlighted by the fact that almost half the respondents said a female friend or an older female suggested it.
11. Half of the respondents said they always used condoms when they first started having sex for money. About a fifth
used them occasionally or less. Condoms were used less frequently in situations where a pimp or client set the price or
where a lot of alcohol was consumed.
12. A third of the respondents said that they set the price themselves but most of them had the idea of performing sex
for money suggested to them by some other person.
13. Over half the respondents described their first paid sex as being with a business man considerably older than
themselves and most of the paid sex was with older men.
14. Three-quarters had been forced to have sex when they did not want to. For over a third it had happened on more than
one occasion. A condom was not usually used and few received assistance unless they had gone to hospital.
15. Two-thirds of the participants reported drinking “lots” when they were having sex for money. There is an increase in
the consumption of alcohol from 38% prior to initiation into commercial sexual activities to 66% after their
16. Half of participants who drank “lots” always used condoms when they were paid for sex and a further 8 nearly always
17. All those who began commercial sexual activity under 16 years of age used drugs on an occasional or frequent basis
during the time they were paid for sex. Sixty eight percent were regular users of drugs, and only two had not used drugs
at all while involved in commercial sexual activity.
18. There is an increase in the use of drugs and the amount consumed after initiation into commercial sexual activities.
19. Participants who disclosed childhood sexual abuse were more likely to consume a large amount of alcohol and drugs
when they were later engaged in commercial sexual activity (74%) compared to participants who did not disclose childhood
sexual abuse (55%).
20. When participants began having consensual sex early, they were more likely to have commenced heavier alcohol
consumption and more frequent drug use.
22. There was an increase in the number of participants consuming more alcohol subsequent to initiation into commercial
23. Just over a third (35%) of participants had experienced thoughts of suicide. This is higher than current research
which suggests suicidal ideation occurs in about 29% of females and 17% of males in New Zealand.
24. The younger the respondents were when they began having sex for money the higher the number of respondents who
reported suicidal thoughts. The high numbers who had experienced childhood sexual assault, a known contributing factor
in suicidal ideation, clouds this.
25. Twenty-one of the respondents (45%) were asked to be photographed and were under the age of 18 years of age at the
26. Four fifths of the respondents had tried to stop having sex for money but only about one fifth succeeded. Money was
the main reason the respondents cited for returning to commercial sexual activity after they had tried to stop.
27. Over half of the respondents advised other young people, who might be thinking about having sex for money, not to do
it and to check out alternative options.
NB The nature of the sample prevents trends expressed by the data from being generalised to cover all young people who
become involved in underage commercial sexual activity.