“John”: Creating Demand for Child Sex Trafficking

As long as there’s demand for paid sex, there will be motivation for pimps to prey on the most vulnerable – our children – to meet the demand and make money for themselves. In the United States alone, demand continues to be high; a study from ASU on online sex advertisements reported that, “on average, one of every 20 males over the age of 18 in a metropolitan city area is soliciting online sex ads.” We’re always shocked as we analyze and report child sex trafficking statistics. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking (79%). The UNODC also reported that almost 20% of all trafficking victims worldwide are children, and that in some places such as Africa and the Mekong region of Southeast Asia, that number is much closer to 100%

Who is John?

At Thorn, we work hard to deter clients of child sex trafficking, most often referred to as “Johns.” The name “John” stems from “John Doe,” the term law enforcement agencies use to identify an anonymous male. In the case of child sex trafficking, those working in the field use “John” to refer to the anonymous individuals that solicit and purchase children for sex online and offline. Online, “Johns” often solicit or purchase children using escort websites. Offline, “John” also may solicit underage sex acts through illegal prostitution domestically, or may travel to foreign countries and solicit underage sex illegally. “John” creates a market for underage commercial sex simply because he’s willing to seek it out and buy it, creating an endless flow of money that makes it profitable to human traffickers to exploit young children – who are more easy to control. He may not know the full consequences of his actions, and may be blind to the violence, threats, controlling behaviors, false promises, lies and manipulation perpetrated by the traffickers and pimps.

Deterring John

There is good news for the fight against “John.” Many organizations, including Thorn, are combatting child sex trafficking demand through deterrence programs. These programs aim to educate “Johns” on the realities of the sex trade and the often unseen, harmful consequences of buying sex. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) released a Counter-Trafficking in Persons Field Guide in 2012 to “reinvigorate and focus Agency efforts to combat trafficking.” These efforts, in combination with efforts from agencies like the FBI, are leading to more arrests and prosecution of “Johns.” In one particularly successful 72-hour nationwide undercover sting, local, state and federal law enforcement partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to rescue over 100 children who were lured into child sex trafficking in 76 cities across the United States.

Local initiatives, including one spearheaded by Demand Abolition are working with local jurisdictions to ensure that they focus on catching and penalizing sex buyers rather than victims who are often forced into prostitution or are underage. By doing this type of advocacy work, these groups are helping to make a difference on the ground in reducing demand. Thorn is also conducting online deterrence programs that help those who are looking to purchase sex understand the realities of the “market” – that those in prostitution are often underage, often not there by choice, and that their purchasing behavior is contributing to the perpetual abuse of these individuals. Thorn also attempts to connect potential Johns with counseling and other help resources, so that they can change their behavior.

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