Startling Statistics about Invisible Offenders

On December 31, 2015 US President Obama proclaimed January 2016 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month. The proclamation asks us to “recognize the victims of trafficking,” and “resolve to build a future in which their perpetrators are brought to justice and no people are denied their inherent human rights of freedom and dignity.”

I agree with the saying that “an ounce of prevention is a pound of cure.” When it comes to human trafficking, prevention can come in the form of awareness about the issue and who is at risk of becoming a victim. Providing access to education is another prevention strategy, because educated women and girls are less likely to be forced, tricked or coerced into slave labor or sexual exploitation. Providing support to single moms (such as through the Live Your Dream Award) is another excellent option, as is doing a better job at addressing and preventing child sexual abuse. The majority of trafficking victims were sexually abused as a child.

The aspect of prevention that interests me the most is demand reduction. Basic economics tells us that if there wasn’t a demand for paid sex, there wouldn’t be a market for trafficked women and girls. I knew the demand for procured sex was big, but it wasn’t until I heard Dr. Dominque Roe-Sepowitz speak at a conference last weekend that I realized how big. Dr. Roe-Sepowitz is an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University, and the Director of the ASU Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research. One of her projects was the “Invisible Offenders Study,” which attempted to estimate the population of active customers trying to buy sex in 15 cities.   Roe-Sepowitz and her team placed decoy online sex ads on two websites in 15 cities around the US. The researchers assumed if someone called the number included in the ad, they were a potential buyer.

The results of this study are startling. “On average, within the 15 markets explored, one out of over 20 males over the age of 18 in a metropolitan city was soliciting online sex ads.” In the Phoenix metropolitan area, the research concluded an average of 78,412 men call in response to an online sex ad sex every day. In Houston, the number was even higher, an average of 169,920 potential buyers every day, or one out of every 5 males over 18. Dr. Roe-Sepowitz stated that of the people making the initial call, it is estimated about 3% end up completing a transaction. For Phoenix, this means 2,340 sex buyers per day. In Houston, that equates to about 5,100 each and every day.

Police departments and other law enforcement agencies are not staffed or equipped to adequately deal with this volume of sex buyers, who create the market for trafficking. That’s why demand reduction is so important. If your house is flooding, wouldn’t it be better to the faucet off first before attempting to mop up the mess?


cathy-standiford Cathy Standiford is passionately committed to improving the lives of women and girls, locally and globally, and advocating for their basic human rights. Cathy served as 2009-2010 President of Soroptimist International of the Americas,’s sponsoring organization: a global volunteer organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment.

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