“Story humanizes the woman on the other end of the dollar. When we see the humanity in someone, it becomes difficult to sexualize and objectify them.”
― Harmony Dust
According to Thorn.org — a start-up founded by Ashton Kutcher and his former wife, Demi Moore, in 2012 —150,000 new escort ads are posted online every day. These escort ads advertise men, women, and children for sex. Thorn’s goal is to reverse the role of technology as the primary problem used to sexually exploit individuals, instead using technology as part of the solution.
Sex trafficking is a crime usually involving force, fraud or coercion to induce another individual to perform commercial sex. Common types of sexual trafficking include escort services, pornography, illicit massage parlors, residential brothels and outdoor solicitation.
In Thorn’s 2018 report, “Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking”, the website sought to better understand underage sex trafficking and asked survivors “how technology was used throughout their trafficking situations.”
The results from Thorn’s report were staggering, finding that of those individuals who were trafficked in 2004 or later, 75 percent reported being advertised online. Of those who were trafficked before 2004, only 38 percent reported being advertised online. That is a 37 percent increase in the advertisement of children for sexual services in 14 years.
Sex exploitation happens not just with minors, but adults as well. In fact, Humanrightsfirst.org reported that 15.4 million victims of sexual exploitation — or 75 percent — are aged 18 or older, with the number of children under the age of 18 estimated at 5.5 million worldwide.
In the past, women and girls primarily advertised themselves — or were advertised — via a pimp in brothel windows, strip clubs, massage parlors, salons and underground businesses, or by word of mouth. Since the introduction of the internet into mainstream society in 1991, and the commercialization of products being sold online, so has the commercialization of women, men and children being sold for sex online.
Thorn reported that“people are posted and sold online multiple times a day,”the same way an item is sold with a price, photo and short description.
According to the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 105,000 children in the U.S. are being sexually exploited and the underground industry will not slow down. In fact, the FBI refers to sexual exploitation as the “fastest-growing organized crime” with online channels furthering its reach and making it easy to sell sex to buyers of all ages and demographics.
While outdoor solicitation of sex is still prevalent globally, it is no longer the main way to attract customers. Instead, parts of the web have taken on a dark identity. Men, women and children are sold for sex without their permission to strangers at all hours of the day and to multiple buyers each hour.
According to Berkeley.edu, “The stereotypical image of the streetwalker does not adequately represent the business of prostitution or its practitioners. While the most familiar and attention-getting form of prostitution is street prostitution, best estimates indicate that only 10 to 20 percent of prostitutes solicit on the streets.”
The remaining 80 to 90 percent of individuals sold for sex work in residential brothels, strip clubs, massage businesses, escort services or work as “call girls.”
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, a majority of cases reporting sex trafficking — or 1,572 cases — pertained to escort services and. The other 508 cases dealt with residential situations and 329 were related to outdoor solicitation.
Berkeley also reported that the demographic of women who still solicit on the streets is not an accurate representation of the influence of prostitution or sex exploitation locally or globally. There is much that goes on behind the scenes, at all hours of the day and even more-so because of the convenience, and accessibility, of technology.
We are at a time in our society where we need to look inward to solve the problem, instead of outward. That goes for looking at the statistics of women who are no longer solicited on street corners, but instead through online ads marketing them blindly to buyers at the click of a button. While the sale of sex may be more obscure in plain sight, I assure you we are only just starting to understand the complexities of the problem, and find new ways to solve it.
Catalyst Ministries aims to do just that: Be part of the solution. If you or someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Centerby phone at 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733).