Eradicating sexual exploitation must be a global priority

The Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation (CESE) Global Summit, which is being held in Washington from Wednesday through Saturday, will bring together people who have been victimized by sexual exploitation, pornography, sex trafficking, prostitution and child sexual abuse. These survivors have come away from their terrible experiences with a desire to ensure no one else suffers from such horrors.

How would we react upon discovering the actual number of women and girls who are used for sex and discarded like trash through prostitution, pornography and sex trafficking? What if we could quantify the pain that sexual abuse inflicts on the women, men and children who suffer it? What if we could calculate the collective damage sexual exploitation does to those around us? The weight of it would be crushing.

Across the country, Americans, from Hollywood to Capitol Hill, are engaged in a national dialogue about sexual harassment and assault following the descent of the legendary Hollywood filmmaker Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein – despite having deep political connections, power and prestige – saw his career collapse when he was accused by multiple women of sexual assault and harassment.

After Weinstein’s accusers spoke out against him, we witnessed the downfall of more men in Hollywood, the media and the tech sector. The #MeToo movement was born, and women across the country spoke out about the sexual misconduct directed against them, often at the hands of men in positions of power over them.

It's time to ask questions and get answers. For now, the issue has attracted media attention. However, we cannot squander this opportunity. As the #MeToo cultural awakening continues, we must follow the web of sexual abuse and exploitation to its furthest corners and shine a light on its darkest recesses. And we need to also understand the common characteristics among different forms of sexual abuse and exploitation.

All forms of sexual abuse and exploitation stem from the same lack of respect for human dignity and a lack of compassion for our fellow human beings. This fundamental flaw drives the selfishness of sexual objectification and the culture of sexual harassment and assault.

At our global summit this week, more than 60 conference speakers, subject matter experts and academics will come together to develop the best practices and solutions. Attendees will become inspired and network with other like-minded individuals. Though the experiences and skills are wide-ranging and the politics are diverse, conference attendees are united by the commitment to build a world free from sexual exploitation.

These experiences and perspectives inform the national discussion about the human rights abuses of sexual abuse and exploitation plaguing almost every facet of our culture.

As we continue down this path of social awakening, it matters that we get this conversation right. Philosopher Roger Scruton said of pornography that “it threatens the loss of love in a world where only love brings happiness.”

Scruton’s words aptly apply to all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation. If the #MeToo movement reveals anything, it’s that we’re treating human sexuality wrong – as something to be commodified rather than respected.

The CESE Global Summit, and our entire movement, exists for the sake of a world where love and human flourishing are the conquerors of hatred, violence and abuse.

Dawn Hawkins is the executive director and senior vice president at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation in Washington.