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Initiatives to Reduce Demand for Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the U.S.

Date Published
August 31, 2016

A number of criminal justice interventions and collaborative programs that combat prostitution and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation by focusing on reducing demand for commercial sex have emerged. Studies have found that the use of anti-demand approaches in the U.S. is more widespread than previously thought. However, little research or descriptive information is available about most of these interventions. Additionally, many communities attempting to address “demand” have not had access to lessons learned from the experiences of other communities. As a result, some initiatives have struggled or failed when faced with challenges that had been solved elsewhere.

This project provides a descriptive overview of initiatives targeting the demand for commercial sex in the U.S. and offers practitioners actionable information to assist them in starting, improving or sustaining initiatives.

Although this was not a formal evaluation, the report includes information about assessments of demand reduction activities. The authors note that successful demand-side interventions include:

  • “John schools” and “john shaming”
  • Reverse prostitution stings (street-level, brothel-based and web-based)
  • Community education programs
  • Seizing cars involved in purchasing sex and suspending drivers’ licenses
  • The Swedish model: focusing on arresting and prosecuting the purchasers of commercial sex

Update: The website discussed below no longer is available. 

In addition to the final report, which summarizes the research activities and presents findings, the authors created a website that expands upon the overview in the report and provides information about the range of models and program structures implemented, the obstacles communities faced implementing these models and how to overcome these challenges. The site includes details on tactics and how to start, improve and sustain an initiative and is a critical resource to engage with before starting any demand reduction program.

The authors began by compiling a list of the different kinds of interventions and identifying cities and counties that had some form of sex trafficking or prostitution demand reduction activity. Then they conducted surveys and phone interviews with program and agency staff and stakeholders and made site visits to observe the programs and conduct in-person interviews.

About this Article

The work discussed in this article was completed under grant number 2008-IJ-CX-0010 awarded by NIJ to Abt Associates Inc. The article is based on the grant report A National Overview of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Efforts by Michael Shively, Kristina Kliorys, Kristin Wheeler, and Dana Hunt.

Date Published: August 31, 2016