This article was originally published by the Indianapolis Star.
IndyStar columnist Tim Swarens spent a year investigating the commercial sex trade of children, a lucrative business where more than 1 million kids a year are abused. This is the fifth of 10 columns in the EXPLOITED series.
SEATTLE — The man in the red shirt is angry.
My question, which has triggered his anger, was about whether he and other men in a court-ordered program for sex buyers had considered whether at least some of the girls and women they purchased were victims of human trafficking.
“I’ve never had sex with anyone who didn’t want to be there,” Red Shirt says, his voice rising. “They’re whores. They wanted the money.”
Denial is a high wall to climb. One of the lies men who buy sex tell themselves is that the people they purchase are always willing participants. Most admit that trafficking does exist, but they also insist they’ve never been involved with it.
I move to the next question. Why do many online ads promote 19-year-old women for sale? (In the sex trade, the supposed 19-year-old who is supposedly working her way through college has become a cliche).
A professional in the tech sector speaks up. “Nineteen is the sweet spot,” he says. “If she’s advertised as 18, then there’s a risk that she might be underage. But 19 is still a teenager.”
The man who says this is in his late 40s. Later, I learn that he had been arrested for arranging to buy sex from an undercover officer posing as a 15-year-old girl.
Of course, pimps can’t openly advertise the real age of the 14-year-olds they groom, manipulate and coerce. They know police and prosecutors are watching. Instead, young victims often are marketed online on websites like Backpage with code words: Fresh, new, sweet.
Or as 19-year-olds who need help with tuition.
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