Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is the exchange of sex or sexual acts for anything of value including money, drugs, food, shelter, protection, and/or other basics of life. CSE can take various forms, including: prostitution, pornography, sex tourism, and other forms of transactional sex. CSE also potentially includes arranged marriages, where the person has not freely consented to marriage and is sexually abused.
CSE commodifies women and girls and supports a culture that views women as objects who are a ‘sum of body parts’ rather than a whole being. Although CSE mainly involves the abuse of women and girls, men and boys are also abused and exploited through prostitution and pornography. Because the majority of the victims are women and girls, the focus of this summary will be on women and girls who are sexually exploited.
Sex Trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act. People who are exploited in the commercial sex industry are viewed as victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under 18 years of age.
Therefore, anyone involved in forced commercial sex (which includes most prostitution) is trafficked regardless of whether they’re ever moved across a border.
How many people are commercially sexually exploited each year?
- 2 million children worldwide are prostituted in the commercial sex trade
- 14,500-17,500 foreign nationals are being trafficked into the US for the sex trade
- 100,000-300,000 American children are being prostituted in the US at any one time
- 300-500 youth are being prostituted in the Seattle/King County area at any one time
“The Life” is slang for being in prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation.
(Note: in the following sections, some of the statistics have wide ranges because the data was taken from six different studies that contained varying information. Regardless of the variations, you’ll get a sense of the gravity of the issue).
II. Statistics about the supply side – the victims
Women who end up being sexually exploited never wished for that as little girls. However, in many cases, there are factors that compel them (involuntarily) into “the life.” Some of those factors are:
- Troubled home life or abandoned by family
- Addiction to drugs (to numb the pain)
- Sexual and/or racial harassment as a child
- Single parent families (60%)
- Living below the poverty line (40%)
- Experienced childhood physical and/or sexual abuse (up to 90%)
- Lack of alternative job choices
- Homelessness (80%)
- Running away from home (90% of runaways become part of the commercial sex industry)
Not all women/girls who enter the life have these kinds of risk factors, but many of them have several, which makes them more likely to become victims.
Most of the young women in the life start out by being duped into a relationship by a supposedly caring “boyfriend” who treats her well, buys her clothes/jewelry/food, and maybe even gets her out of a situation she doesn’t want to be in (troubled home life, boring school, mean step-parent, etc.). He continues to groom her until she thinks she is in love with him and is dependent on him in some way for her happiness or livelihood. At that point, the man asks her to strip at a club, have sex with a few people, and/or engage in creating pornography, and because she thinks she loves him, she does it. This is the beginning of a downward spiral during which her boyfriend, now pimp, continues to sexually exploit her as well as abuse her if she won’t comply with his demands.
The following is what often happens while girls are with their pimps:
- Girls are forced to live with 2-6 other girls in his “stable”
- Girls are forced to work 5-7 nights/week depending on the city they’re pimped in
- Girls are given a quota each night and they can’t come “home” until they bring in that amount of money
- Girls are threatened with violence, promises to send dirty pictures to their family back home, and/or that they or their family members will be killed if they refuse to work
- Girls don’t get to keep any of the money they earn – therefore being victims of “paid rape” every night
- Girls are frequently moved to other cities if the pimp is in trouble, done with them, or for a special event
- About half of the girls are forced to create pornography
But that’s not the worst of it. Can you imagine being a 14 year old girl stuck in a hotel room for hours with endless men coming to have sex with you? You have no control over what is going to happen when the next guy comes in, and sometimes the situation turns bad. For example:
• 50-78% of women in prostitution have been raped
• 65-100% have been physically assaulted
• 44-83% have had a weapon used against them
As you can imagine, that kind of life causes intense trauma, which girls may try to numb with alcohol or drugs, but the pain doesn’t go away:
- 68% have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (the same rate as combat veterans) and almost all suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, dissociative disorders, eating disorders, etc. This rate increases if women are forced into both prostitution and pornography.
- 46-65% of the women in prostitution have attempted suicide
- 88-96% want out of the sex industry
So that gives you a small taste of what life might be like for the women and girls who are sexually exploited. These victims are worth fighting for, and they are why we’ve come together as an Alliance to provide life-lines of hope and restoration, and to end commercial sexual exploitation in our state.
III. Statistics about the demand side – the perpetrators
Now we turn to the demand side – the men. When we think of a man who would buy sex and victimize a young girl, we might conjure up an image of a seedy guy who is lonely and desperate. Although that profile may fit some buyers, all of the studies show there is no specific profile for men who purchase sex. In fact, one law enforcement officer called it the hardest crime for which to target perpetrators, because they run the gamut.
The following statistics about men who have solicited women for commercial sex are from six separate studies done around the world:
- Average age: 38
- Age range: 18-77 years
- Chicago study: 62% made more than $40,000
- Chicago study: 79% had attended some college or obtained a college/graduate degree
- 50+% White | 25+% African American | 10% Latino | 5% Asian | 5% mixed or other
- 84-89% heterosexual | 7-12% bi-sexual | <5% homosexual
- 48-70% are married or have a steady partner/girlfriend
- Of those who are married or have a steady partner, the vast majority say their relationships are sexually satisfying
- 50% of men have families
- 37-44% bought sex for the first time before age 21
- 74-86% bought sex by the time they were 25
As you can see, these men don’t fit the stereotype of a lonely, sexually dissatisfied man, and their decision to buy sex is not due to lack of a sex partner.
So how do these, regular, everyday men end up deciding to purchase commercial sex? In the same studies cited above, men were asked how they got into purchasing sex. Here are some of their replies:
- 54-58% bought sex for the first time by themselves
- 36-43% did so with a group of friends
- 17% did so with a relative
- 18% of Chicago men bought sex for the first time to mark an occasion such as a birthday or bachelor party. (Men often have their first experience with a girl/woman in prostitution as a “rite of passage” on their 16th or 18th birthdays, and are ridiculed if they don’t want to participate.)
Here are a few more facts to help round out how men end up purchasing sex:
- 27-76% of transactions for commercial sex start on the internet (the wide variation is based on what year the study was done; more recent studies had higher percentages)
- 84-88% solicited women indoors (hotels, bars, strip clubs, escort agencies, private parties, lap dance clubs, massage parlors, brothels)
- 57-63% solicited women outdoors (streets, car)
- Men who use women in prostitution are at least twice as likely to use pornography than men who don’t solicit women in prostitution
- 70% of all American men, aged 18-34, view online porn at least once a month
- 50+% of Christian men in the US view porn on a regular basis
- 35% of boys aged 13-14 report viewing Internet porn “too many times to count”
- The average American boy has seen porn by the age of 11 or 12
- Almost half of the men in the Chicago study said they purchase sex in order to obtain sex acts they either felt uncomfortable asking their partner to do or which their partner refused to perform. (Where did they get the ideas for these sex acts? Pornography.)
And if that wasn’t hard enough, here are some of the thoughts men have about prostitution and sexual exploitation:
- 80% of men stated they felt most men preferred young girls and 42% of them specifically seek out young prostituted girls
- 52% thought it would be fine if their son visited a brothel, yet 94% said they wouldn’t want their daughter to end up in prostitution
- 22-43% of men said that once they pay for it, they’re entitled to do whatever they want to the women they buy (which makes prostitution VERY dangerous for women)
- 10-13% of men said they would rape a woman if they could be assured they would not be caught (19% of men had raped a woman)