This month, two women in Springfield, Massachusetts, pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy to traffic a “stable” of women addicted to heroin. The victims were recruited from the women’s jail in nearby Chicopee and paid in heroin. This is only one of dozens of stories you might find in recent news. The regular and constant theme of sex trafficking is misery, and yet, year after year, countless men find ways to buy in. So who are these men?
When it comes to sex trafficking, most of us focus on the survivors. Anyone with a shred of empathy would. But we shouldn’t ignore the buyers. Finding out more about them is the first step towards effectively putting an end to sexual exploitation.
Sex trafficking — as an industry — is no different from any other business. There’s supply and demand. In Springfield, the supply was heroin addicts from the Chicopee jailhouse. But we never found out about the people driving the demand, and this is a significant problem. Putting a stop to sex trafficking in the United States is not merely about stopping supply. It also means finding ways to curb demand.
The Men Who Buy Sex
A recent survey from Demand Abolition gives us insight into the world of sex buyers. In order to conduct the study, Demand Abolition teamed up with researchers and the University of Portland to survey 8,201 adult men across the United States in December 2016 and January 2017. The surveys were conducted online, and the final results were compared with the General Social Survey to test for accuracy.
The results of the survey are as shocking as they are interesting. As it turns out, 20% of all men have paid for sex at least once in their lives. And 6.2% of those men have purchased sex within the last year.
Especially frightening is the finding that so-called “high-frequency buyers,” or men who buy sex regularly, make up a disproportionate amount of industry sales. In other words, men who routinely buy sex are also the ones who drive the profits. Other interesting facts from the survey include:
- Race and sexual orientation are poor predictors of whether a man will buy sex
- High-frequency buyers often make $100,000 or more each year
- One out of five men said they had never bought sex but could see themselves doing so
- Buyers are more likely to think buying sex does not entail treating women like objects
- Only 6% of men who have purchased illegal prostitution report being arrested for it
Taken altogether, this information gives us a picture of the kind of men engaged in sex trafficking. It also gives us the tools to counteract the growing demand with targeted policy.
How to Stop Sex Trafficking Demand
With a clearer picture of the type of men who buy sex, our society can implement policies that depress the demand for prostitution. In doing so, we can also begin to end sex trafficking in the United States. The policies we can apply to stop demand are numerous. There’s much to be done.
Education programs can help men learn that prostitution is not merely “boys being boys” and that most of the women involved are victims of exploitation. Employers can create strict policies that prohibit sex buying under any circumstances. And increased involvement from the health sector — no different from drunk-driving initiatives, domestic abuse education, etc. — can help establish targeted community interventions to stop demand at the local level.
If all of these things come together, we can make a real dent in buyer demand for prostitution. With enough effort, we can greatly reduce the demand for sexual exploitation, and there’s no demand, there’s no need for supply – and there’s no profit.