To fight sex trafficking, target the men who buy sex

Posted by on April 27, 2017 in News


The Washington Post published this letter to the editor by Alex Trouteaud, our director of public policy and research, on April 24.

The national opioid epidemic and youth homelessness are fueling the abuse of children in prostitution and sex trafficking. As George F. Will’s April 20 op-ed, “The battle against sex trafficking,” pointed out, pimps and traffickers target vulnerable children. Many of them are found in foster care and places such as malls and fast-food restaurants, and now traffickers are stalking drug treatment centers for recruits, too.

Mr. Will accurately described this brutal problem, but he missed the solution: confronting the buyers, who are creating the market in the first place. The traditional, misguided response to sex trafficking has been to lock up the children and women. Recently, law enforcement has aggressively targeted the pimps and traffickers who enable this abuse.

But these approaches avoid the real culprits: the men buying sex. Academic research has shown that 1 in 7 American men admits to purchasing sex in his lifetime. And yet, the buyer’s trafficking victim is much more likely to be arrested.

Instead, law enforcement resources should target the men whose money lines the pockets of pimps and who make websites such as Backpage alleged marketplaces for trafficking. No buyers, no business. When we hold men accountable for the damage that they do, we can reduce sex trafficking.

The path to progress and protecting exploited people is prosecutors, survivor leaders, police and civic advocates working together to change men’s behavior and hold them accountable.

Read the letter on the Post’s website.