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.