Violence Against The Vulnerable – The Person as Commodity




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Violence Against The Vulnerable – The Person as Commodity.

Christopher Herriot De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, United Kingdom

This paper explores current theories and explanations for sexual violence and sex crimes as an attempt to contribute to understanding the motivations of perpetrators of child sexual exploitation. The purpose of the paper is to begin discussion around these issues but also to consider the political, economic and social climate which creates an environment wherein such exploitation can occur. The author contends that child sexual exploitation should, although located in differing settings and emerging in different ways to much of it, be considered a manifestation of modern slavery. It is argued that current theories around sex crimes, or crime in general, are on their own, inadequate to explain the widespread incidence of child sexual exploitation. Furthermore, psychological explanations, based on the deficiencies of individuals, be they biological, cognitive or Freudian or even multi-factor theories (Precondition, Quadripartite or Integrated theories), are inadequate to explain the collective and widespread behaviours evident around sexual exploitation. The degradation and de-humanisation of individuals by others may offer some form of gratification or reward for the perpetrators in terms of feelings of power, privilege and status but the moral licence to engage in deviant and exploitative behaviour may well be sourced in the wider social, economic and political environment of the perpetrator(s). Social being determines consciousness (Marx, 1977). Neoliberalism has dominated the economic and political spheres internationally for some 30 years. It emerged as the long boom from World War 2 came to an end with the development of stagflation and the undermining of Keynesian economics. The author contends that Neoliberalism is merely the ideological fig leaf for capitalism, that the historical development of the bourgeois economic system necessitated a turn towards unfettered market forces. Capitalism has proved itself hugely adaptable, surviving deep economic crises, destructive world wars and social democratic interventionist policies to emerge intact. The collapse of the Soviet Union removed the main challenge to its ideological hegemony and gave free rein for ever deeper exploitation, more far-reaching global dominance and unrestrained pursuit of private profit. In the drive to reduce all human interactions to the level of economic exchanges, the dominant ideology has created the circumstances wherein sexual exploitation has almost become “normal”. The sexualisation of young children by fashion industry marketing strategies, the objectification of the female body in marketing campaigns, the pursuit of wars to further economic ends and to confer power and influence in the interests of capital, have created circumstances where societal hierarchies, male dominance (patriarchy), and, economic gain have converged to facilitate marginalisation and de-humanisation. Campaigns to vilify the poor, welfare claimants, asylum seekers and immigrants in a “hostile environment” have also de-humanised these vulnerable groups in the eyes of potential perpetrators. Finally, the marginalised, the vulnerable have themselves become commodities to be bought and sold for financial gain and personal gratification. This paper argues that interventions to facilitate the liberation and empowerment of the survivors of child sexual exploitation must be supplemented and complemented with effective challenges to the pursuit of profit and the normalisation of exploitation as the dominating ideology in society. Otherwise, child sexual exploitation is likely to become a permanent feature of our society.



Sexual exploitation, sex crimes, deviance, child sexual exploitation, de-humanisation, power, moral licence, Neoliberalism, dominant ideology, liberation, empowerment


Herriot, C. (2018) Violence Against The Vulnerable – The Person as Commodity. Human Trafficking & Child Sexual Exploitation - Violence Against the Vulnerable Conference, De Montfort University, Leicester, May 2018.


Research Institute

Institute for Research in Criminology, Community, Education and Social Justice