For advocates and allies in the movement to end sexual exploitation, the arrest of even one sex buyer, pimp, or trafficker is cause for celebration. It’s like Christmas when hundreds, even thousands, of these exploiters are held responsible for their actions.
For Marian Hatcher of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) in Chicago, Illinois, “Christmas” comes along a lot. Since 2011, her office has arrested over 8,200 sex buyers across 23 states.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Marian helped with the implementation of the “National Johns Suppression Initiative” (NJSI), the largest sex buyer sting operation of its kind designed to curb demand for commercial sex. CCSO collaborated with other law enforcement entities to arrest commercial sex buyers in conjunction with one another. Thanks to the combined efforts of over 100 agencies, operations spanned multiple jurisdictions and provided a way to collect valuable data concerning the demographics of commercial sex buyers.
In the data gleaned from these operations, we are able to ascertain that commercial sex buyers are most often male, Caucasian, high school-educated, older than 30, married, and employed. Although commercial sex buyers aren’t all in that specific demographic, the data shows that that description does represent a majority of the commercial sex buyers who were busted as a part of these operations.
Currently, prostituted individuals are arrested more often than are commercial sex buyers. Only 6% of men who purchase sex illegally report ever having been arrested for that activity. The men who buy sex say that the threat of arrests and jail time, increased fines, and placement on sex offender registries would serve as significant deterrents for them in regards to purchasing sex.
Accordingly, rather than prioritizing the arrest of individuals who are being prostituted, law enforcement entities must shift efforts toward combating demand for commercial sex by focusing on sex buyers.
Victims of trafficking and prostitution need care, not punishment. Those who demand paid sex are the ones who must be stopped and law enforcement has the power to change this tide. Perceiving a risk of arrest and the consequences that it will entail can go a long ways toward deterring potential sex buyers and will alter and disrupt the “normal” activities of repeat sex buyers.
Exploiters must be held responsible for their actions. Nearly half of women who are prostituted are affected by multiple mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. It is the sex buyers, pimps, and traffickers who are forcing victims into acts of prostitution and fueling the demand for commercial sex buying. As such, law enforcement efforts need to prioritize their efforts to combat and reduce demand for commercial sexual exploitation by bringing those individuals to justice and providing significant and meaningful disincentives for that type of criminal activity.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is doing just that by making the intentional decision to not arresting prostituted individuals and instead combating demand by focusing on commercial sex buyers. The results are better care for victims and improved effectiveness in reducing the victimization in the first place.
As Marian Hatcher says, this movement “is about human dignity, life, respect.”