Jessica* walked through the hotel lobby—a nearly invisible young woman to the guests.
Who could guess that she was being sex trafficked? She had no chains, no visible bruises. But her sex trafficker sat outside in the car.
She walked up to the hotel’s welcome desk, and asked the middle-aged woman there for the room key that was waiting for her. Waiting to give entry to a night of violence and abuse.
The woman smiled kindly at Jessica before she turned around to find her the key.
For a split second, Jessica considered the impossible…should she say something? Ask for help?
But in a flash, she made eye contact with a man sitting at the nearby hotel bar. Clean-cut, suit and tie, with a hint of grey around his temples. To other guests, he was the local judge. A man of honor and respect.
But her stomach sank. She knew the truth—that he regularly paid her trafficker for access to sexually abuse her.
“If you ever ID me, just know I’m friends with every cop and lawyer in town,” he told her the first time he’d exploited her.
Of course, he didn’t need to say that at the time. Because she knew cops and lawyers in town regularly assaulted her as well—in fact, one was upstairs waiting for her right now.
The woman at the welcome desk turned back around with her kind smile.
But instead of asking for help, Jessica took the key silently.
Who was she supposed to reach out to, when the powerful men in town were sex buyers?
This is a scenario that sex trafficked people face every day.
While the prevalence of sex buying is difficult to identify because it is a crime in most states, according to one study estimation “about 14% of men in the United States report having ever paid for sex.” A survey of sex buyers in Minnesota reported that sex buyers were found in a “wide variety of employment sectors, including businessmen, doctors, lawyers, dentists, judges, professors, police officers, correctional officers, pastors, executives, truck drivers, manual laborers, farmers, and sailors.”
Sex buyers exist in our communities. They can blend in. They may even be respected. They may not consider buying sex “wrong.”
But the reality is this: sex buyers are the sole revenue source for sex trafficking, and they are the primary perpetrators of sexual violence and exploitation in the sex trade
As the driving force fueling the markets for paid sex, these “buyers” represent the consumer-level demand. Without them making the decision to buy sex acts, sexual exploitation would end. Sex traffickers wouldn’t have any “customer” to sell abuse to.
No buyers, no business.
Further, sex buyers are the primary perpetrators of violence against both sex trafficked and prostituted women. One survivor of prostitution explained how purchasing sex eradicates empathy and boundaries during the encounter, stating:
“You know when you buy something and it doesn’t work properly, the first thing you will do is pick it up and shake it. The same principle applies to prostitution. If your mouth isn’t open wide enough or your throat isn’t deep enough. So you are always at risk of being raped or abused if the buyer feels he is not getting what he paid for.”
The good news is we can take action to hold sex buyers accountable, to reduce the demand for sexual exploitation.
You can take action today in three ways:
1. Take 30 seconds to contact your local elected officials. Fill out the below form to urge your local leaders to adopt policies that increase accountability for sex buyers. NCOSE can support officials with research, customized legislation, and training. (Continue reading for more actions below the form.)
2. Share this message on social media.Sex buyers are the sole revenue source for sex trafficking and the primary perpetrators of sexual violence in the sex trade. Ask your local elected officials to hold sex buyers accountable:… Click To Tweet
3. Learn more by downloading our PDF on Why Sex Buyers Must Be Stopped and How To Do It or by visiting our webpage on sex buyers.
If you or someone you know is buying sex and wants to stop, see these resources for help.
*Jessica’s story is a composite of common survivor experiences expressed to NCOSE staff and is not any one individual’s story.