Communities are becoming more aware of the occurrence of sex trafficking throughout the United States and as more organizations work to serve the needs of both juvenile and adult victims it has become apparent that more needs to be done to address the source of the problem – the demand.
Anyone familiar with almost any industry knows that economics is regulated by two factors – that of supply and demand. When demand is high – supply must be constantly available and increased accordingly. When demand is low, the supply responds by becoming less available. It is no different with the Sex Industry. Selling sexual services has become so lucrative because the demand for sexual services of an ever widening diverse supply is high. Those who control the supply are constantly required to access new resources to replenish the availability and answer the increasing demand. Like the market for any good or service (illicit or otherwise), demand is the driving force, and the other components follow. When there is demand, supply will be found or produced, and distributors (in this case, pimps, traffickers, or those acting as their own distributors) work to ensure that the two shall meet. The stronger the demand, the greater the economic motivation to obtain and deliver a supply will be. Without question, markets originate in consumer-level demand, and supply and distribution are responses to demand.
As our society comes to understand that there is no difference between prostitution and sex trafficking, we have a better understanding of the dynamics of the problem and one of the goals we need to add to the services we offer victims is a commitment to reduce the demand by treating the disease and not just the symptoms. Until relatively recently, the criminal justice system attempts to suppress street prostitution have focused largely on interrupting supply by arresting and sanctioning the providers. But they have usually ignored the individuals creating demand. While arresting women engaged in street prostitution may temporarily clear an area of visible activity, driving it to other neighborhoods or indoors, experience shows that this strategy alone produces few lasting benefits. Prostituted people cycle through the criminal justice system often and rapidly, typically returning to the streets within hours of being arrested. Moreover, women and girls arrested for prostitution are rarely provided with services to help them address the issues that make them vulnerable to further sexual exploitation.
It begs the question “Who is buying all these sex services?”
Studies of male consumers of commercial sex find that buyers are similar to the general population in most regards, and quite unlike most populations of criminal offenders. A very small percentage of men who buy commercial sex services are dangerous criminals and sociopaths, however a substantial portion of men in the U.S. admits to having purchased sex at some point in their lives. With one out of every five or six men admitting to purchasing sex, patronizing commercial sex is unlikely to be primarily the result of rare deviance or pathology. Most men do not purchase sex, so the behavior cannot be considered a problem beyond the reach of intervention. Many men who have been arrested for purchasing sex are likely to have attended college, and only 15% are single men. The largest percentage of the men are well educated, employed, and married, and very few had extensive criminal histories. In fact, more than 85% of men questioned state that nothing more than the threat of arrest would be enough motivation for them to not seek out commercial sex services.
Many studies have examined men’s motivation for buying sex, and found that there is a wide range of reasons for buying sex from prostitutes. Many are seeking intimacy or a way to approximate intimate relationships they are unable or unwilling to develop. Just as many seek sex without intimacy or a way to get sex without the investment and compromises needed for intimate relationships. Some seek variety and want to fulfill a desire for sex with women of various “types,” based on ethnicity, size, age, hair color, etc. A few are thrill-seeking by being drawn by the “thrill of the hunt” and the illicit nature of prostitution. But most – in addition to the previously cited reasons for buying sex – is a pathology that is drawn by compulsion, addiction, or by other forms of social, psychological, or misogyny where the intent is to control and harm. Just as an alcoholic is compelled to drink and a drug user is compelled to do drugs, a sex addict seeks to feed his sexual appetite which – as with any addictive behavior – grows according to the amount of time he invests in his addiction.
Men who solicit prostitution are not necessarily different demographically or in terms of
criminal history, but they are measurably different in terms of a range of attitudes toward women, relationships, and commercial sex. Many consumers are likely to have rather liberal sexual attitudes towards premarital sex, sex among minors, and tended to think about sex more often. Male commercial sex participants are also less likely to have been sexually molested as children, or to report having forced women into sexual acts.
Both prostitution and sex trafficking come from the same source: men’s decisions to buy sex. Many studies have examined men’s motivation for buying sex, and found that there is a wide range of reasons, and the relationships between prostitutes and their “customers” can become quite complex. Both traffickers and victims of the sex industry report that the men they service tell them they are seeking the services of a prostitute for a variety of reasons.
·To engage in sex acts that few other women are willing to engage in.
·To experience sex with women with a variety of physical traits.
·To satisfy the desire for sex and/or intimacy that they are unable to meet in other ways.
·To satisfy a need for emotional support that they are not receiving from others.
·To provide them with sex that requires little or no emotional involvement.
·Because they are attracted to the excitement of the illicit nature of prostitution.
·Because they have difficulty meeting women conventionally (e.g., feeling shy or awkward approaching women).
·Because they feel that most women find them unattractive.
·Because they do not have the time nor desire the responsibility of a conventional relationship.
·Because it provides a less risky means of mimicking extreme or illegal fantasies, such as
incest or rape.
·Because they desire being “in control” or dominating women when having sex.
Anyone who works with men, women and children who are involved in sex trafficking and prostitution, have independently concluded eliminating sexual exploitation requires attacking it at its source: consumer-level demand. Without the demand for commercial sex, there would be no market for producing and sustaining the roles of pimps and traffickers as “distributors.” Nor would there be a force driving the production of a “supply” of people to be sexually exploited. Supply and distribution are symptoms; demand is the cause.
These perspectives have led many cities to enforcement policies oriented to accomplishing short-terms goals of cleaning up particular street corners and business districts; cities often tolerate prostitution activity confined to restricted locations. Frequently, enforcement activities involve arresting prostitutes followed by short-term punishment and no provision of services. Thus, police departments and district attorneys’ offices process a large number of recidivist prostitutes with unaddressed service needs, but prosecute few johns.
Prostitution places a substantial burden on the criminal justice system and on providers of public health and social services. Those involved in prostitution are typically in need of other public services. Prostituted persons are often sexually assaulted, and victims of sexual assault present an array of service needs ranging from the need for employment; refuge from abusers; child care; and legal advocacy to addressing psychological problems resulting from sexual violence. They also are at high risk for a host of physical and mental health problems, including drug addiction, STD infection, PTSD, and injuries from violent crimes. Those supporting themselves exclusively through commercial sex are usually uninsured, and seek costly, reactive health care services at emergency rooms and public health care providers. Since many prostituted women and girls have children, they also are high-end users of the foster care system and child protective services.
The experiences of law enforcement in addressing prostitution and sex trafficking, as well as other illicit markets such as those for illegal drugs, indicate that little lasting, substantial impact results from strategies heavily focusing on supply and distribution. If law enforcement were suddenly to increase its commitment to arresting pimps and traffickers, and if it began to have greater success against them, it is likely that traffickers would adapt by changing tactics or replacing those arrested as long as demand for their “product” remained strong. If enforcement efforts were enhanced, the less organized and less competent small-time pimps may be the first to succumb to law enforcement, but may be replaced by more highly coordinated human trafficking, drug trafficking, or organized crime networks. Alternatively, the same pimps and traffickers could change tactics to avoid whatever was working for police. Additionally, a very small portion of pimps and traffickers are ever arrested, due in large part to reliance upon frightened and/or reluctant survivors to make cases against their abusers. The rare instances where pimps and traffickers are taken out of action may cause short-term interruptions, but they are likely to be replaced as long as demand remains strong and there is profit to be made.
Primary prevention refers to stopping negative events before they occur,
ensuring that people do not become afflicted rather than addressing the
symptoms of the afflictions that have occurred.
The majority of effort to confront prostitution and sex trafficking in the United States has been devoted to tertiary or secondary approaches (trying to stem the progression of a problem, or recover from an affliction after it has occurred); while relatively little investment has been made in primary prevention (attacking consumer-level demand).
Reverse sting operations provide those prevention services have been proven to be easy to implement and are revenue producing for both the Law Enforcement Agency conducting the actual sting operation, the Social Service Agency providing the testing and counseling and provides resources for the countless victims who have become trapped in prostitution.
It is our premise that the underlying problem of the buyers of sex services and products is Sex Addiction. Treating the underlying problem just makes more sense.