New Report on Sex Buyers Reveals Motives, Frequency, and Policy Implications
Statement by Dawn Hawkins,
Senior Vice President and Executive Director, NCOSE
Washington, DC – Demand Abolition, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating the illegal commercial sex industry in the U.S. and abroad, released a new report this week entitled “Who Buys Sex? Understanding and Disrupting Illicit Market Demand Research.” The study surveyed 8,201 adult men in the United States to gather insight about men’s choices to by people for sex—behavior which drives the demand for sexual exploitation and trafficking. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation welcomes this invaluable contribution towards the fight to end sexual exploitation and trafficking.
“Prostitution is the context in which sexual exploitation and sex trafficking transpire,” said Dawn Hawkins, Senior Vice President and Executive Director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. “Therefore, if we ever hope to eradicate sexual exploitation and trafficking, we must make serious and sustained efforts to understand why men choose to buy people for sex and to change their behavior.”
“Importantly, the prostitution market—which Demand Abolition’s report estimates at $5.7 billion a year—is fueled by a relatively small number of men. Of the men surveyed, just over 20% entered the illegal sex-buying market at least once during their lifetime, while 80% of men never purchased people for sex,” Hawkins added.
“Additionally, only 6.2% of men bought people to use for sex within the past 12 months; these men create the ‘active buyer’ group. Twenty-six percent of these active buyers constitute a subgroup referred to as ‘high-frequency buyers’ (HFBs). These HFBs reported purchasing weekly or monthly. Their purchases accounted for nearly 75% of the total prostitution market.”
Hawkins explained, “HFBs are more likely to have started buying sex at a young age, and are far more likely than others to have had their first paid sex experience initiated by someone in their social network—typically by the time they turn 21. Nearly one-in-five high-frequency buyers had his first paid-sex experience while he was legally a juvenile.”
“It also comes as no surprise to NCOSE, that the research revealed a correlation between pornography and sex trafficking. Active and former buyers are much more likely than non-buyers to have viewed porn in the past year,” said Hawkins.
Demand Abolition recommends increasing police presence in communities and arrests of sex buyers as strategies that have a deterrent effect on sex buying. Approximately one quarter of high-frequency buyers strongly agreed that “the risk of getting arrested for buying sex is so high that I am considering not buying sex again.”
The report also made several, important policy recommendations for decelerating men’s sex buying behavior such as:
- shifting resources from arresting prostituted persons to arresting the sex buyers
- implementation of mandatory minimum fines of adjudicated sex buyers to help offset costs of survivor exit services and law enforcement demand-reduction operations
- increasingly harsher penalties for repeat sex buyers, and
- providing interventions in education and public health in an attempt to counter messages that normalize sex buying
NCOSE supports these policy recommendations and calls on law enforcement officials to dedicate significant resources to arrest and prosecute those who choose to exploit others for sex—male sex buyers.
NCOSE also commends Cook County Sherriff Tom Dart for his national leadership in combating sex buyers. The National Johns Suppression Initiative he spearheads has resulted in thousands of arrests of sex buyers national wide—including 400 arrests involving 20 police agencies in 14 states occurring January 13 through February 3, 2019.
For more information about men’s demand for prostitution, see NCOSE’s Face the Demand project page.