From back alleys to Backpage.com, suburbs to cyber sites, human beings—especially women and girls—are bought and sold for sex. No matter the medium, there’s one constant—rampant demand.
Demand Abolition is eradicating the illegal commercial sex industry in the US—and, by extension, the world—by combating the demand for purchased sex. The most efficient approach to ending sexual exploitation is targeting sex buyers: when they stop buying, the entire system of degradation collapses.
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“No buyers means no business,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said from the stage of a packed ballroom at last week’s “CEASE and Desist,” Demand Abolition’s annual convening of the CEASE Network (Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation). Mayor Turner’s remarks echo a sentiment that’s being felt from Capitol Hill all the way to local police precincts: stopping sexual exploitation starts with ending demand.
For three days, a dedicated group of elected officials, CEASE Network coordinators, police and federal law enforcement officers, prosecutors, survivor leaders, researchers, and tech specialists learned about new ways to fight commercial sexual exploitation. Highlights included:
Understanding the unique role that high frequency buyer networks and buyer review boards play as the structural center of the sex trade
Hearing from tech industry insiders about how technology can be leveraged to target sex buyers and traffickers
Sharing best practicesfor demand reduction, as learned by men and women in the field
Reflecting and celebrating successes from the CEASE Network’s first year
A case study presentation opened attendees’ eyes to the reality that a small population of high frequency buyers drives a large portion of the illegal sex market. These men are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the industry’s harm and operate in networks that share all the hallmarks of organized crime—playing a critical role in the promotion of prostitution of vulnerable people, including trafficking victims. By week’s end, all participants understood that taking down these networks is the key to turning the industry upside down, leaving the conference with new ideas on how it can be done.
Ambassador Swanee Hunt introduces Senator Ted Poe before he addressed the crowd at Cease and Desist
Congressman Ted Poe (R, TX) and Ruben Perez, Assistant US Attorney and Deputy Coordinator of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance, were on hand to speak with participants and learn about CEASE Network tactics. Inspired by what they heard in their conversations, both officials spoke passionately about the importance of anti-demand work and increased support for survivors.
On the conference hall floor, CEASE coordinators, law enforcement officers, survivors, and technology and data experts traded tactics, discussed the importance of increased cooperation among practitioners, and brainstormed ideas on how to solve shared problems. This cross-sector collaboration is vital to our mission; our 20% reduction goal will only be achieved when our teams and allies can pool their collective skills, knowledge, resources, and time.
CEASE Network coordinators Alex Trouteaud (Atlanta) and Hanna Wilson (Boston) talk tactics at CEASE and Desist
In addition to networking, attendees received hands-on training on new technology to aid their work. Demonstrations were provided on how to mine publicly available data online to identify potential buyers, how to stage various online deterrence campaigns that target buyers at the point of sale, and how to use an innovative automation program to monitor decoy ads. These tools will increase the effectiveness of law enforcement operations while saving substantial amounts of time and money.
The CEASE Network thrives on collaboration, and this event in Houston strengthened bonds within the larger demand movement. Demand Abolition looks forward to working with everyone in the coming year—together, we can drastically reduce sex-buying across the country, creating safer communities for all.