By Raleigh Sadler
Surveying 4,851 men in a representative sample of American households from 2001–2010, the General Social Survey (GSS) asked interviewees two important questions about human trafficking.
First, each person was asked if they had ever purchased sex within their lifetime. If the answer was “yes,” then they were asked if they had purchased sex within the last year. Approximately, 13.9 percent of men between the ages of eighteen and seventy-five reported that they had purchased sex in their lifetime, while 1 percent reported buying sex within the last year.
Let’s pause for a moment. Even if we assume that all of those interviewed were being honest, though 1 percent seems relatively small, this percentage still represents a significant number. This is a lot of people who have admitted to buying sex recently. This is not something that we can brush under the rug.
In May 2016, agents of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation posed online as underage girls, leading investigators to the arrest of 32 people, two of whom were ministers. The pastor and the “pastor in training” responded to an ad placed on a website by what they thought was a fifteen-year-old girl.
Operation “Someone Like Me” took its name from the words of an eighteen-year-old, who had been trafficked three years prior.
In the New York Times article, “Two Tennessee Ministers Are Among 30 Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” Christine Hauser explains how law enforcement took their cues from this survivor.
“For an hour we talked with her in minute detail; how they end up agreeing to meet, the slang,” Agent Quin said. At the end of the training conference call, the agents thanked her. After a silence, according to the agent, she said: “No, thank you: You don’t know what it means to someone like me that the T.B.I. is willing to go out and rescue these girls.”
As a result of the sting, the two men were arrested on felony trafficking charges.
This just goes to show that just as anyone can be a trafficker, anyone can be a sex buyer. This is not restricted to a certain ethnic or religious background. Sex buyers can include those with social status and financial means as well as those without.
Normally, in order to prove in a federal court of law that a case is sex trafficking, one would have to show that either force, fraud, or coercion were used to make the person complicit in the act. But if someone is under the age of eighteen and sold for sex, they are automatically considered victims of human trafficking.
Basically, anytime someone who is underage is being prostituted, whether it is online or on the street, that person is trafficked.
For many of us, it’s easy to focus on sex traffickers and those in prostitution, but if we were honest with ourselves, we’d have to admit that there is a part of us that wants to avoid thinking about the sex buyer.
We don’t think that anyone that we know would ever think to buy sex, but I have found that it’s far more common than you know.
Raleigh is the founder and executive director of Let My People Go, a network that empowers the church to fight human trafficking by loving the most vulnerable. He’s the author of the newly-released Vulnerable: Rethinking Human Trafficking, from which this article was excerpted and adapted with permission of B&H Publishing.