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SUPPLY and DEMAND in the Sex Trade

Sex buyers and those working in the sex trade are hidden populations, and the stigmas and crimes
attached to these roles prevent them from openly identifying as such. Therefore, accurate numbers are
very difficult to confirm for both populations. A diagram better explains the issue:

The top box in the Supply and Demand diagram represents the demand for commercial sex in the US
– how many people are paying for sex through any venue (strip clubs, pornography, prostitution, web
cams, hotlines, illicit massage parlors, sugar babies, etc.).

Existing research has claimed/calculated 3% to 80% of the US adult male population has or will
purchase sex at least once in their lifetime. These estimates vary based on the mathematical model
used, and what sex trade venues are included. For example, pornography is typically not included in
estimates on prostitution, even though there is a substantial overlap in who buys both pornography and
commercial sex through a prostituted person. Generally, estimates settle around 5%-15% of the adult
US male population will purchase sex in their lifetime.

The bottom box of the diagram represents the volume of workers required in the sex trade to meet the
level of demand.

First, on the right, there are individuals in the sex trade because they made an informed decision as an
adult to engage in some form of sex work. These individuals have not experienced any form of abuse
or neglect as a child, do not have mental health or substance use disorders, and at any given time in
their work they have other options. Essentially, they have adequate education as well as the ability to
find employment tomorrow in a field and position that covers their monthly expenses.

Next, there are individuals who are in the sex trade due to a lack of other options, typically due to an
extensive series of events that drastically altered the trajectory of their lives. Most research on women
in the sex trade shows that the single highest correlating factor amongst all victims/survivors of CSE is
childhood sexual abuse/assault – around 80 to 90% of women in the sex trade have this in their history.

This fact alone potentially indicates how few individuals are truly in the “Choice” category. In addition,
racism, gender-based oppression, mental health, substance use disorders, poverty, single parent
households and the economic instability that statistically goes with that, criminal records, bad rental
history or poor credit, lack of transportation, etc. all REMOVE options from individuals over time.
SUPPLY and DEMAND in the Sex Trade


This segment of workers in the sex trade do not necessarily have a third-party trafficker, however they
are engaging in sex work and/or survival sex due to a lack of other options. Most studies indicate this
is where a majority of those in the sex trade are numbered - they would leave and work in ANY other
industry if they had adequate education and employment opportunities that would allow them to pay
their monthly expenses.

The “Survival Sex” segment is sometimes recruited into the sex trade initially by a trafficker, and
sometimes they find themselves lured into the sex trade by others in the industry. This could be a
friend or family member who has found it as a successful means for survival in similar circumstances.
A local example: FOG was contacted multiple times this past year by various counselors at different
high schools, with the same theme: 16 and 17-year-old high school juniors and seniors, when asked
about their post-high school plans for school/career, shared that they planned to “move down to Denver
and become strippers.” After multiple contacts, it was discovered that all the girls who had shared this
plan were Hispanic/Latina. In talking with one of our board members about this, she noted that there
was a strip club in Denver that had been playing commercials on the local Spanish-speaking television
station. The ads were full of cash and depicting a fun, party atmosphere at the strip club, telling girls
that they could apply at 18 and be taking home money in their pockets nightly. This is an example of a
legal company in the sex industry specifically targeting a very marginalized population with the promise
of opportunity.

Finally, on the left of the diagram, there is the segment of workers in the sex industry there due to a
third party who used force, fraud, or coercion, OR recruited them as a minor. These are the sex-
trafficked individuals. Some may have entered the sex trade initially (if they were over the age of 18) as
a Choice or Survival person, and then a trafficker identified them as a vulnerable person. Or they may
have been introduced to the sex trade through the third-party abuser.

Now, in the sex industry, you have the Choice segment who comes “first,” but as you can see, they
cannot provide commercial sex services for the entire volume of demand. So next, the sex trade
companies and current participants invite those in the Survival segment in as a solution to a lack of
options. But even then, there is not enough “product” to satisfy the customers. So, this is where
traffickers enter – they see the “empty shelves” in the sex industry, and they go out and use any means
necessary to put “product” on those shelves.

This diagram is important because it:

(1) recognizes the spectrum of individuals who are in the sex trade, and the concept that individuals
may move along the spectrum during their time in the sex trade,
(2) is visual proof that we cannot “just end trafficking” without (a) addressing the entire commercial sex
industry and (b) tackling demand, and
(3) communicates why we also serve many individuals in the Survival category, not just those with
active third-party traffickers. Finally
(4) disrupts the focus on “but how many?” – ONE IS TOO MANY! It doesn’t matter how those three
segments are divided. There are individuals in the sex trade who do NOT want to be there – period.