For the past two decades,[1] efforts to fight the global phenomenon of sex trafficking have long emphasized the need for victim care and recovery, as well as law enforcement measures aimed at arrest and prosecution of sex traffickers. Such efforts have been, and continue to be, invaluable. Countless victims the world over have found paths toward healing, personal autonomy, and wellbeing, because of those who have pioneered victim recovery programs and who have advocated for legal reforms to bring their traffickers to justice.

These approaches, victim services and criminal prosecution of sex traffickers, have addressed two sides of the triangle of activity that comprises sex trafficking—supply (i.e., victims) and distribution (i.e., sex traffickers).[2] The third side of this triangle, demand (i.e., buyers)[3] has received considerably less attention, despite calls to address demand dating to the mid-2000s.[4]

The irony of this situation can scarcely be overstated, since demand is the fulcrum on which all sex trafficking rests. Thus, failure to combat demand guarantees not only the survival of sex trafficking, but also the creation of future generations of victims.

Sex Trafficking: Fulfilling Male Demand in Prostitution Marketplace

The concepts of supply and demand are fundamental building blocks in capitalist economies. Supply represents how much of a particular product the market can offer, and demand refers to how much of a product is desired by potential buyers.[5] In addition to desire for a product, demand hinges on both the potential buyer’s ability and willingness to pay.


When these concepts are applied to the phenomenon of sex trafficking, those who are bought and sold for sex constitute the “supply.” Thus, sex trafficking renders human beings—predominantly women and children, but also men—into commodities in the prostitution marketplace.[6] The prostitution marketplace encompasses any of the various modes by which prostitution is marketed: strip clubs, massage parlors, “escort” services, Internet-based prostitution websites, brothels, as well as pimp-facilitated, street-level prostitution, etc.


In contrast, those who make up the “demand” are the individuals with the desire, along with the ability and willingness, to purchase people in the prostitution marketplace to use for sex. As the driving force fueling the prostitution marketplace, they have been described as the “primary” level of demand. “Without them making the decision to buy sex acts, prostitution [and, ergo, sex trafficking] would not exist.”[7] Those who comprise the demand are overwhelmingly male.

Men who solicit and buy people for sex are often referred as “customers,” “clients,” and “customers.”[8] These terms normalize and obscure the harm of their behavior.[9]

Terms such as “purchasers of sex acts” and “johns”[10] have been utilized as alternatives. These terms are an improvement, but are also problematic.[11] For instance, it has been argued that purchasers of sex acts (sometimes also phrased as “sex buyers”) are not actually purchasing sex, since sex connotes an intimate, mutually desired, and mutually pleasurable sexual exchange. The “sex” purchased in prostitution is certainly not intimate (it is an escape from intimacy), nor is it mutually desired (if it was, payment would not be necessary) and it hinges entirely on the sexual pleasure of the buyer, thus making it inherently impossible to buy authentically human sex.[12] Moreover, terms like “sex buyer,” by placing emphasis on sexual activity, obscure the humanity of those on whom buyers enact and enforce their sexual demands. The term “john” is problematic for its anonymizing effect, as well as the way in which it normalizes the behavior by suggesting that men purchasing people for sex is as common as the name “John.” To date we are not aware of alternative phrasing that adequately encapsulates the behavior and resulting harms that the aforementioned terms attempt to describe. With these shortcomings in mind, terms such as “purchasers of people used for prostitution,” and “sex buyers” will be used throughout the remainder of discussion to follow.


Importantly, sex trafficking exists because the male demand for people to buy for sexual use[13] outstrips the supply of those available for purchase. Since few women and men wish to be bought in exchanges of sex for money, sex traffickers (i.e., distributors of people used for prostitution) step in to provide the supply. In order to secure people to sell in the prostitution marketplace, pimps engage in recruitment, transportation, harboring, provisioning and obtaining, and utilize means of force, fraud, and coercion.[14] Thus, pimps are by definition, sex traffickers and any pimp-controlled person, whether a minor or an adult, is a victim of sex trafficking.


[1] Passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) by the U.S. Congress in 2001, was a watershed moment that led to a groundswell of programs, in the U.S. and abroad, to assist sex trafficking victims, and to improve law enforcement efforts to arrest and prosecute sex traffickers.

[2] Laura J. Lederer, “Addressing Demand: Why and Howe Policymakers Should Utilize Law and Law Enforcement to Target Customers of Commercial Sexual Exploitation,” Regent University Law Review 23, no. 2 (2010):297‒310.

[3] Ibid.

[4] For instance, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2005 contains provisions addressing demand for commercial sex acts in the U.S. and in connection to international sex tourism, as well as other demand-related provisions. Additionally, some NGOs have emphasized combating demand (e.g. Global Centurion, Demand Abolition, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women), but in contrast to the hundreds of groups that have emerged which are dedicated to providing victim services, groups oriented toward demand reduction are very few in number.

[5] See: https://www.investopedia.com/university/economics/economics3.asp (accessed May 30, 2018).

[6] The prostitution marketplace is more commonly referred as “the sex trade” or “commercial sex industry. However, these terms obscure the nature of activity at the core of market, and because the later lends a sheen of normalcy and legitimacy to an inherently exploitive trade, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation advocates for use of prostitution marketplace instead.

[7] Donna M. Hughes, “Best Practices to Address the Demand Side of Sex Trafficking,” (2004), pg. 2. http://www.popcenter.org/problems/trafficked_women/PDFs/Hughes_2004a.pdf (accessed May 30, 2018).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Lisa L. Thompson, “Chart of Preferred Terminology for Sex Trafficking and Prostitution,” (2016), https://endsexualexploitation.org/wp-content/uploads/Intro-Chart-of-Preferred-Terminology-RVSD-MRG-FN-2016-1.pdf (accessed June 4, 2018).

[12] Lisa L. Thompson, “The Global Supply Chain of Sexual Exploitation and the Necessity of Combating the Demand for Commercial Sex,” in The Freedom from Sexploitation Agenda, Policy Recommendations on Sex Trafficking, Sexual Violence, Child Exploitation, and Pornography, Papers from the National Briefing (Washington, DC: National Center on Sexual Exploitation, March 20, 2017), 50‒62.

[13] Commercial sex acts are any sex acts on account of which anything of value is given or exchanged by any person. In addition to cash, things of value include housing, food, clothing, drugs, or other material goods.

[14] The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defined a “severe form of sex trafficking” as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provisioning and obtaining, of a person for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation, by means of force, fraud, or coercion.


The prostitution marketplace constitutes “the zone” where men exercise raw physical and sexual power over those they buy for sex. Get the research and facts on prostitution & sex trafficking.

Those who make up the “demand” are the individuals with the desire, along with the ability and willingness, to purchase people in the prostitution marketplace to use for sex. Learn about the sex buyer.

Research and personal accounts to help the public understand one of the major factors creating and driving the demand for trafficked women and children: Pornography.

Internet-based bulletin board-type advertising forums have contributed to an explosion in prostitution advertising and sex trafficking.

Sweeping changes by international organizations to support full decriminalization of prostitution prioritizes special interests of pimps (i.e., sex traffickers) and sex buyers over the human rights of people in prostitution. Take Action.

The conditions around large, commercial sporting events, such as the demographics of visitors, and a celebratory atmosphere occurring within a concentrated geographic area, create an increased demand for purchasing sex. Help Stop This!

Like never before in our nation’s history, America is suffering from systemic sexual exploitation. This necessitates that our federal government addresses the full spectrum of sexual harm. See our policy recommendations.

dirty dozen list

Naming and shaming mainstream entities that facilitate sexual exploitation through poor policies and profit-seeking helps to dismantle the marketplace which allows sex trafficking to thrive. Take action. 

Demand Forum is a comprehensive online resource for people interested in ending sex trafficking and prostitution. The website includes details on tactics and how to start, improve, and sustain an initiatives to deter demand (sex buying).


Only a few fans at Super Bowl LV? That’s no problem for sex traffickers.

The fact that Super Bowl LV, a game featuring Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs squaring off against Tom Brady and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will likely long hold the record for the fewest fans in attendance at a Super Bowl would be a problem for sex traffickers… if commonly held misperceptions about sex trafficking…

Image showing sex trafficking victim reflected in the visor of a football helmet with Super Bowl content in the background

Real Sex Trafficking Statistics: A Look at the Federal Human Trafficking Report

Note: While the National Center on Sexual Exploitation prefers to use the term “survivor” rather than “victim,” in order to accurately reflect the report’s findings and remain consistent with language used in the TVPA, this blog uses the word “victim.” The 2019 Federal Human Trafficking Report is a compilation of all United States federal human…

Screenshot of an infographic from the 2019 Federal Human Trafficking Report

Demand Forum, popular tool to curb sex buying, comes to NCOSE!

Men who buy people for sex provide the revenue stream—and thus the economic motivation—for all prostitution and sex trafficking. Their choice to engage in sex buying is the root of sexual exploitation. Without consumer-level demand, there would be no need for pimps and traffickers. Supply (victims) and distribution (sex traffickers) are symptoms. Demand is the cause….

NCOSE Research Institute graphic for Demand Forum

The National Center’s Demand Reduction Meeting with the U.S. Domestic Policy Council

Staff members from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, including president and CEO Patrick Trueman and Michael Shively, Ph.D. (both pictured above), were able to spend time with the Domestic Policy Council of the United States this week in order to educate them on the importance of demand reduction in the fight against sexual exploitation….

Patrick Trueman and Michael Shively before the National Center's Demand Reduction Meeting with the Domestic Policy Council of the United States

STATEMENT – NCOSE Announces Hiring of Dr. Michael Shively, Foremost National Expert on Combating Demand for Sexual Exploitation

Washington, DC (February 13, 2020) – The National Center on Sexual Exploitation is pleased to announce that Dr. Michael Shively, a foremost national expert on combating demand for sexual exploitation, has joined the organization. Dr. Shively will serve as Senior Advisor on Research and Data Analysis. “To invigorate efforts to combat demand for sexual exploitation,…

Survivors Debunk Massage Parlor Myths in ‘Defend Dignity’ Video

When someone thinks of prostitution, they may not think of the hundreds of illicit massage parlors—also known as “body rub parlours”—that exist across the world. Instead of working on the street or in a typical brothel, these sexually-oriented businesses operate like a typical massage parlor with one exception: the women there are paid for sex…

Survivors debunk myths about illicit body rub/massage parlors Survivors debunk myths about illicit body rub/massage parlors (still from video by Defend Dignity)

Sexual Exploitation Survivors, Advocates Call on NFL to Banish Robert Kraft from Team Ownership

Survivors of sexual exploitation are appealing to the National Football League (NFL), following the arrest of Patriot’s owner, Robert Kraft, for allegedly purchasing women at an illicit massage parlor/spa in Florida last month. In advance of the NFLs Annual League Meeting taking place March 24-27 in Phoenix, Arizona, 19 survivors and/or survivor-led organizations, along with…

An Inside Look at Men Who Buy People for Sex

Most of the research conducted about prostitution and sex trafficking has been done on the supply side (i.e., the prostituted persons), while relatively little has been done to examine the demand side, (i.e., the individuals who have previously or who currently purchase people for sex). Recently, however, Demand Abolition conducted extensive research and analysis on…


  • Nationwide Counselor Finder First searchable directory of therapists which allows individuals to search for a professional by location, expertise, language spoken, gender, HMO or PPO, and more.



  • The Christian Care Network (CCN) A national referral network of state licensed, certified, and/or properly credentialed Christian counselors offering care that is distinctively Christian and clinically excellent.


  • Catholic Therapist Finder CatholicTherapists.com offers a referral base of qualified Catholic therapists who faithfully adhere to church teaching. They also offer helpful articles, books and audio.




  • Muslim Family Services A resource for the American Muslim community to find counselors with an Islamic perspective.


  • Addo Recovery Offers online addiction therapy programs, as well as individual online and in-person therapy. Specializes in betrayal trauma.


  • LifeStar Through an innovative and proven three phase treatment program, this intensive outpatient group therapy approach gives participants the resources, support, and structure needed to experience a successful recovery from the damaging effects of pornography and sexually compulsive behaviors.


  • New Life Ministries Individual Christian counselors working for New Life Ministries are located throughout America, and are available as a resource for those struggling with pornography and for the partners or spouses of those struggling with pornography. New Life Ministries also runs intensive workshops including:
    • Every Man’s Battle – This three-day workshop is designed to help men who have engaged in pornography, sexual addiction or adultery and help them to get back their sexual integrity.
    • Intimacy in Marriage – If you want something better than the marriage you have and are ready to experience an astounding richness in your relationship, New Life has designed a life changing weekend to give you the tools to develop a healthy, healing intimacy.
    • Restore This workshop is designed to help women who have experienced sexual betrayal and have been hurt in relationships with men who are or have been involved in pornography, sexual addiction, physical and/or emotional affairs.

National Human Trafficking Hotline: Call 1-888-373-7888 ( TTY: 711)|Text 233733

  • FBI – Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force



  • Resources for Individuals in the Sex Trade – This website hosts a list of resources may be able to help individuals with short-term solutions and a range of emergency services that may be able to help adults involved in the sex trade.


  • National Human Trafficking Referral Directory – The online National Human Trafficking Referral Directory is designed to provide access to critical emergency, transitional, and long-term social services for victims and survivors of human trafficking. The directory also connects individuals with training, technical assistance, and opportunities to get involved in their communities.


  • Polaris ProjectThe Polaris Project serves victims and survivors through the National Human Trafficking Hotline. They also provide information useful for recognizing human trafficking and victims.


  • International Justice Mission – IJM lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals work with local officials to secure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, regarding slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. IJM prosecutes perpetrators, and ensures that public justice systems – police, courts and laws – effectively protect the poor.


  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – NCMEC works with families, victims, private industry, law enforcement, and the public to assist with preventing child abductions, recovering missing children, and providing services to deter and combat child sexual exploitation.


  • Covenant House – Covenant House crisis shelters are open 24 hours a day with the promise of a hot meal, a warm bed and the chance to rebuild your life. With locations all over the US, Canada and parts of Latin America, Covenant House works in collaboration with the National Runaway Safeline (NRS) – a crisis care hotline that can provide you with assistance 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.



  • Shared Hope International – Shared Hope International strives to prevent the conditions that foster sex trafficking, restore victims of sex slavery, and bring justice to vulnerable women and children.


  • Love146 – Love146 works toward the abolition of child trafficking and exploitation through prevention and aftercare solutions while contributing to a growing abolition movement.


  • Global Centurion – The Global Centurion fights modern day slavery and human trafficking by trying to reduce demand


  • Children of the Night – Children of the Night provides a nationwide resource where individuals can reach a skilled case worker 24/7 who knows how to rescue and relocate a child or young person from a dangerous condition without being arrested by the police. Their 24/7 nationwide toll-free case management services are comprehensive and able to help anyone trapped on the streets of the US.


  • Cherished – Cherished is a nonprofit organization run by survivors, which provides support, residential, employment, and transition programs.


  • The Samaritan Woman – A faith-based organization providing transitional, residential, and mentorship programs to women recovering from sex trafficking.

National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE

National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE

National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-25ABUSE

  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) – RAINN carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. Their National Sexual Assault Online Hotline (Open 24/7) provides free, confidential, help for sexual assault victims, and their friends and families. They can also help victims find local Crisis and Counseling Centers.



  • Male SurvivorMaleSurvivor offers support forums and chats, webinars, support groups, an empowerment blog, and helps victims get in touch with therapists, while also providing resources to family and friends of victims.


  • Survivors of Incest Anonymous – Suvivors of Incest Anonymous maintains a world-wide directory of SIA, self-help, support ​groups (meetings) information to start SIA groups, ​intergroups, and national service ​offices, which create and distribute SIA ​information tools.


  • Support For Partners – Support for Partners is helps provide support for partners of those who have been sexually abused as children, resources to develop skills that help partners in their relationships, and information about abuse and its effects.


  • Love is Respect – Love is Respect helps individuals recognize abusive relationships, and the warning signs of one. They also help create a safety plan, and provide advocates who can discuss relationships and available options


  • Child Help – Child Help provides prevention, intervention, and treatment programs for abused children.


National Human Trafficking HotlineCall 1-888-373-7888 ( TTY: 711)|Text 233733

  • Resources for Individuals in the Sex Trade – This website hosts a list of resources may be able to help individuals with short-term solutions and a range of emergency services that may be able to help adults involved in the sex trade ie: prostitution, stripping, escorting, pornography, etc.


  • CyberTip Line – Official place to file complaints with the Federal Government about child pornography and suspected child sexual exploitation. Directed by The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in connection with the FBI.


  • National Human Trafficking Referral Directory – The online National Human Trafficking Referral Directory is designed to provide access to critical emergency, transitional, and long-term social services for victims and survivors of human trafficking. The directory also connects individuals with training and technical assistance and opportunities to get involved in their communities.


  • Beauty From Ashes – Beauty From Ashes provides supportive and restoritive programs for women who work in the sex industry. You can also contact their helpline: 1-877-4BFA-SOS


  • Victoria’s Friends – Victoria’s Friends reaches out to hurting women, offering a better way of life by providing an environment where they can feel free and be made whole. The organization helps women through participation in small groups, mentorship programs and training classes.


  • Treasures – Treasures is a survivor-led, trauma-informed organization. They provide holistic recovery opportunities and an authentic, supportive community of women.


  • GEMS – Girls Educational and Mentoring Services’ (GEMS) mission is to empower girls and young women, ages 12–24, who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking to exit the commercial sex industry and develop to their full potential.


  • Hookers For Jesus – Hookers For Jesus is a faith-based organization that addresses the realities of human sex trafficking, sexual violence, and exploitation linked to pornography and the sex industry. They are committed to reaching out to children/teens/women that need assistance/escape from sex slavery.


  • The Dream Catcher Foundation – The Dream Catcher Foundation seeks to improve the lives of Chicago’s most disadvantaged and disenfranchised young women through education, empowerment and prevention of sexual exploitation.


  • Strip Church – Strip Church trains leaders to reach out to strip clubs in their home cities. They do this training through an online-workshop portal with our top leaders and an annual Alumni event in San Diego.


  • 4Sarah – Faith-based nonprofit that empowers change in the life direction of women and girls who are adult entertainers, prostitutes, escorts or victims of sexual exploitation by offering a holistic approach as well as an educational, emotional, physical and spiritual support system


  • New Friends, New Life – New Friends New Life provides access to education, job training, interim financial assistance, mental health and spiritual support, to help women and their children overcome backgrounds of abuse, addiction, poverty and limited opportunities.

Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs

  • malesurvivor.org – Male Survivor provides examples of how men have learned to cope with and even overcome the effects of tramua. They also provide access to therapists, support groups and other resources.



  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) – RAINN carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. Their National Sexual Assault Online Hotline (Open 24/7) provides free, confidential, help for sexual assault victims, and their friends and families. They can also help victims find local Crisis and Counseling Centers.



Use these graphics, flyers, articles, and videos to educate others on curbing demand for commerical sex.

NCOSE's 2019 Victories and Highlights
stop buying sex super bowl tackledemand
Tackle Demand Super Bowl defend sex trafficking victims
The Global Supply Chain of Sexual Exploitation and the Necessity of Combating the Demand for Commercial Sex
Two Questions, the Same Answer- The Role of Demand in Prostitution and Sex Trafficking
Why We Must Oppose the Full Decriminalization of Prostitution