The Global Supply Chain of Sexual Exploitation & the Necessity of Combating the Demand for Commercial Sex

Lisa L. Thompson serves as the Vice President of Policy and Research for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, where she oversees NCOSE’s strategic planning for increased public understanding of sexual exploitation related issues. Below is a summary of her remarks on the topic of curbing demand for commercial sex from a Briefing at the U.S. Capitol in 2017.

Entities such as strip clubs, massage parlors, brothels, and pornography production companies exist around the world and are commonly referred to using innocuous terms such as “sex trade,” “sex sector,” and “commercial sex industry.” However, what these entities really constitute is a global supply chain of organized sexual exploitation. The essential and indispensable commodities in this industry are human beings whose bodies are sold for sex. Those profiting from this traffic in human beings include not only those directly involved such as strip club owners, brothel keepers, and pornographers, but also a wide range of other parties such as hotel operators, taxi drivers, guards, accountants, lawyers, doctors, travel agents, advertisers, and governments. This sexual industrial complex wholly exists to cater to and profit from one class of individual—commercial sex buyers. Therefore, any serious effort to combat commercial sexual exploitation must include vigorous efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex.

Lisa begins her lecture by suggesting that prostitution is a form of gender-based exploitation. Systems of prostitution exist to cater to the fulfillment of male sexual wants, and the majority of those used to satisfy those sexual wants are female. You might be asking, “What about the men who buy sex from boys, transgender people, or other men?” The operative word here is men. It is men who are buying the sex. Therefore, what you have is a consumer base that is primarily male.

Abolitionist philosophy: Human sexual relationships devoid of intimacy, mutuality of pleasure, reciprocity of affection, and genuine consent are inherently dehumanizing.

In other words, you have to look for these things if you want to have an authentic, human, sexual relationship. Therefore, the reason people are seeking sex from prostitutes is because they don’t want these things. They want sex detached from intimacy and emotional connection because that’s not what they’re ultimately looking for. Sex becomes a raw, carnal, meaningless act.

“…sexual intercourse for money is, by its nature, an act of coercion.”

In the cases of a person buying sex, the buyer is using monetary payment in order to overcome someone else’s will. The person in prostitution doesn’t want to have sex with you, you are simply using your money and power to exploit the victim’s need for housing, drugs, or whatever the case may be.

Any payment for sex necessarily violates human dignity because such exchanges are devoid of the essential hallmarks of healthy sexual relationships, and because they depend on some type of financial inducement to coerce a sexual exchange.

Other forms of commercial sex, such as pornography, stripping, webcamming, etc. also constitute forms of prostitution, and therefore forms of exploitation, because they involve financial inducement to obtain sex.

Lisa also argues that the harm of prostitution is not restricted to the conditions by which it is carried out, but exists in the very carrying out of prostitution itself. She quotes Richard Poulin, saying, “Prostitution is ontologically a form of violence.”

Lisa also pulls quotes from several women in the prostitution industry, who have said things like:

“What rape is to others, is normal to us.” – Anonymous

“[Prostitution is] pay-as-you-go rape.” – Trisha Baptis

“[Prostitution is] being raped for a living.” – Rachel Moran

Lisa says, “Rape is the defining experience of prostitution: the fear of it, the daily hypervigilance required to prevent it, the crushing physical and psychological trauma experienced by victims when it inevitably occurs.”

Ultimately, then, the entire sex trade is turning those who are sold into public sexual commodities. The essential and indispensable commodities to the commercial sex industry are human beings (primarily females) whose bodies are sold for sex. The consumers of sex from persons offered as public sexual commodities comprise the “demand.” The primary actors of purchasing sex acts are men.

So, what are supply chains?

A supply chain is a network between a company and its suppliers to produce and distribute a specific product, and the supply chain represents the steps it takes to get the product or service to the customer. Supply chains include every business that comes into contact with a particular product.

The primary suppliers of the sex trade demand include:

  • Pornography production/distribution
  • Strip joints
  • Live-sex shows
  • Peep shows
  • Escort/outcall services
  • Sex tour operators
  • Internet-based
  • Street-level prostitution
  • Brothels (including massage parlors, saunas, and bathhouses)

The secondary structure of the global supply chain for sexual exploitation includes:

  • Tourism industry
  • Taxi drivers
  • Security firms
  • Accountants
  • Lawyers
  • Advertisers
  • Doctors
  • Public health sector
  • ISPs
  • Governments

The commercial sex enterprises (both primary and secondary) who are supplying persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation constitute the Global Supply Chain of Organized Sexual Exploitation (OSE). OSE exists to cater to and profit from one class of individuals — the male commercial sex buyers. OSE is a manifestation of men’s choices and the male demand that women’s bodies be sold as public sexual commodities.

Lisa includes some horrifying quotes from sex buyers, such as:

“For me, being with a prostitute is not a relationship. It’s like having a cup of coffee, when you’re done, you throw it out.”

“It’s like going to the toilet.”

“I can’t do this with real women.”

It is crucially important that any serious effort to combat commercial sexual exploitation must include vigorous efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex.

The Numbers


NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.


The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.


NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.



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