September 24, 2018

Hundreds of Sex Buyers Arrested as Part of Nationwide Initiative

Police are cracking down on sex buyers. From July 25th through August 26th, two dozen law enforcement agencies across 12 different states participated in the National Johns Suppression Initiative, an annual event started by the Cook County Illinois Sheriff’s Office.

“The National Johns Suppression Initiative is designed to target and reduce the demand for purchased sex, which fuels a sex trafficking industry that perpetuates a cycle of violence, exploitation, mental illness and drug addiction for victims,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

The event was a major success. At least 473 would-be sex buyers, known as johns, were arrested during the campaign. In addition, nearly a dozen youth were rescued from the clutches of sex trafficking. This is a huge victory in the battle against prostitution and sex trafficking.Most arrests were made through street-level reverse stings.

As part of the campaign, police also used artificial intelligence bots to target online sex buyers. Fake advertisements for sex were posted on several emerging online sources for sex trafficking in Chicago, Phoenix, Boston, Seattle and Minneapolis.

Potential buyers who texted the number in the ad would interact with the bot. It would have a realistic conversation with the buyer up until the point where the buyer begins to discuss prices for sexual acts. The bot then sends the following message:

“SOLICITING IS A CRIME that can result in arrest and significant fines,” the text states, according to a copy provided to the Tribune. “Buying sex can also cause serious long-term harm to victims, as well as furthering the cycle of human trafficking. Details of this incident will be reviewed further and you may be contacted by law enforcement. Buying sex will not fulfill what you are searching for.”

The bot was originally design to measure online sex trafficking following the shutdown of Backpage.com. On average, ads on the new sites received three inquiries per ad, whereas similar ads on Backpage.com before its shutdown received 17 inquiries per ad. It’s clear that online sex trafficking was dealt a major blow with the shutdown of Backpage.com. But more needs to be done.

Marian Hatcher, Senior Project Manager and Human Trafficking Coordinator at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, spoke at NCOSE’s 2018 Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation Global Summit. In her talk, she outlines the reality of sex buying and what can be done to stop it.

The National Johns Suppression Initiative has proven that the fight against sex buyers is a winnable battle. Police are taking important steps in the right direction to end sex trafficking. Law enforcement agencies across the country should take note of the effectiveness of this campaign and should follow suit. Hundreds of sex buyers can no longer use and abuse, and nearly a dozen youth have been given back their freedom.

Ben Miller

Digital Strategies Coordinator

Ben joined the National Center on Sexual Exploitation as Digital Strategies Coordinator in July of 2018. As Digital Strategies Coordinator, Ben raises awareness for issues of sexual exploitation through digital media, email marketing, and website development. He works to create a community of activists who are enthusiastic about combating sexual exploitation and changing culture.

Ben earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He graduated with Honors in the Liberal Arts and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. During his college career, Ben spent a semester studying in Washington, D.C. and interned for a member of Congress. On campus, he actively sought to change Greek culture, especially with respect to sexual exploitation, through his membership in Phi Kappa Theta fraternity. Ben also supported his peers who were afflicted by the harms of pornography through a weekly men’s purity group.

Ben’s deep commitment to fighting sexual exploitation was ignited in part by the work done by NCOSE. While writing a research literature review for a public policy class in college, he came across Porn Harms Research and the initiatives being carried out by NCOSE. Ben, a strong anti-pornography activist at the time, began to learn more about the connections between all forms of exploitation and how prominent these issues are in today’s society. He devoted himself to raising awareness about the web of sexual exploitation and is deeply grateful for the work NCOSE has done on these issues. Ben is excited to be a part of the team at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and to contribute to this important cause.

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