MINNEAPOLIS – A recent report by the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research Outreach Engagement Center (UROC) made a number of discoveries in an often overlooked aspect of sex trafficking, those who are purchasing.
Lauren Martin, the lead researcher on the project found that focusing on the buyers of sex was a piece often overlooked in most research surrounding the topic of sex trafficking. As the report states, the primary goal of the research was to identify “who sex buyers are, where they live and purchase sex in Minnesota, how they enter the market place, and what they seek in the marketplace.”
The data was gathered from 157 “qualitative and semi-structured interviews” with experts in combating sex trafficking, including attorneys and law enforcement, as well as members of advocacy agencies. The research also relied upon court data from the Minnesota Court Information System in looking at all sex trafficking cases from 2010 to 2015. Media coverage and analysis of online advertisements for sex were also viewed.
The study finds that 380,000 people have purchased sex at least once in their life and 26,000 purchased sex in the last year. The study pulls data from multiple sources, and shows that the sex buying population is largely reflective of the demographics of the state, meaning that the majority of the purchasers were white males. Furthermore, the report indicates that many of these men are often employed within professional fields.
“I would say a majority of them are white males. Gosh, we’ve had such a gamut. I mean, we’ve had all the way from hospital directors down to guys fresh out of the Marines. But a lot of people in….professional fields, too. We’ve had truckers. But I would say a majority of them are white males. Most of them are married, or a large majority of them are married. I would guess probably 35-45 is kind of our average age,” a West Metro police officer told the researchers.
The report also points out that many of these buyers are from all around the state, and that sex trafficking isn’t an issue that involves simply urban areas. Indeed, the Department of Transportation’s recent campaign at truck stops shows that these places are often the centers of the sex trade.
The report maps the mechanisms by which trafficking victims are sold, which is often through word of mouth or online advertisements. Gang affiliation and connections to criminal networks play an important role in how sex trafficking is advertised as well.
The report has been praised by many within the Minnesota community for focusing on aspects of the trafficking issue that are often neglected.
“This is a valuable resource in the effort to put an end to human trafficking. It sheds light on the fact that, as the lead researcher puts it, buyers ‘are really part of mainstream society’ and buying at all times of day throughout the state,” Congressman Erik Paulsen said in a Facebook post. “As I’ve said before, these sex-trafficking operations are sadly more prevalent and closer to home than we may realize. Hopefully continued focus and investment on this issue can stop this horrible practice. I commend the U as well as all others involved in this study on their work.”