The primary driver for youth sex trafficking is demand—the buyers. No buyers, no demand; with no demand, there would be no business of trafficking. Therefore reducing demand for youth sex trafficking is a critical goal to reducing victimization rates of youth sex trafficking.
The Internet is an important site in which demand is connected with exploited youth. Online classified advertising websites have become central sites for buyers and men to purvey the commercial sexual marketplace with little social or legal consequences. As the Internet has offered many buyers great anonymity, a barrier to systematically reducing demand has been understanding who buyers are and how they operate.
Researchers studied Georgia buyers and found that approximately 7,200 men in Georgia purchase sex with a minor girl each month, and 47% of buyers continued with the transaction despite three warning signs the youth was under the age of 18 (download the full report here). Importantly, the study found that men who purchase youth sex generally come from normal backgrounds and do not have abnormal psychology. Youth sex trafficking is thus not the result of a few problematic individuals, but exists based on social practices that normalize commercial sex with young and youthful persons.
What we’re doing about it
In order to reduce and eliminate youth sex trafficking, consequences for buyers must be increased. Deterring buyers and would-be buyers through both social and legal strategies combine to reduce demand at the macro-level. youthSpark works with and trains law enforcement and prosecutors to shift efforts towards increasing the legal costs of trafficking and exploiting. This means enhancing legal penalties, increasing buyer arrest rates, and recognizing that transactional sex is not victimless, and that exploitation harms youth, families, and local communities.
To encourage social accountability at the micro-level, youthSpark has launched DemandTracker.org to deter individuals from engaging in harmful and illegal sex purchasing behaviors. Family, friends, and employers can check if a phone number has contacted one of our decoy prostitution ads for a young person. The website is designed to not only deter prospective buyers, but also change how the community thinks about sex trafficking.