In January, the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) published a study about the role of the internet in the commercial sex industry. According to the study, an increasing number of people use internet-based communication to discuss and access commercial sex. In fact, 34% of men surveyed reported buying sex via the internet. “’Our Great Hobby:’ An Analysis of Online Networks for Buyers of Sex in Illinois,” focuses on the exchange of information among men who post on the USA Sex Guide in Illinois. This study is a qualitative analysis of a survey conducted in the summer of 2010.
The USA Sex Guide serves as a community and an important resource for men to inform themselves about buying sex throughout Illinois. The “mongers,” as they call themselves, have formed a brotherhood centered on protection, training for newer members, and of course, their “great hobby” of buying sex. For these men, information is control. Prior to the internet, they had to learn on their own how to navigate the world of commercial sex, but now they have a guide.
The commercial sex industry in Illinois is harmful, as it is everywhere. Men on the USA Sex Guide web site admit to being violent and/or aggressive towards the women they buy; they disregard the harm they cause, defending themselves by blaming the women – saying the women “deserve” the treatment they get because they are prostitutes. In fact, the study cites a survey conducted by Durchslag & Goswami in which 21% of the respondents said they believe rape of a prostituted woman is not possible; they don’t believe the concept of rape applies in the context of prostitution. And while some men appear concerned or preoccupied by the evidence of violence they see, it almost never deters them from buying sex.
The men that posted on the USA Sex Guide seem to view sex trafficking or sexual slavery as something separate from the broader commercial sex industry, when in fact it’s an integral part. Many users seem unconcerned about any potential “red flags” regarding minors, instead concentrating on the girls’ youth as a turn-on. These notions make it extremely difficult to protect the girls because they are seen as a transient commodity instead of someone’s daughter.
Many of the men blame women for enticing them to buy sex. One even states that “the only way to stop demand is to stop the prostitutes by giving them some type of work to do.” However, despite the assertion that demand is not the issue, we’ve seen that targeting demand has a significant effect on the commercial sex industry. Over 80% of the men surveyed for this study said they would be deterred from buying sex if they knew they could be charged with a crime, or if there was a risk their families would find out. Increased law enforcement presence in the area might simply end their “cruise” for the night, but getting busted would end their activity permanently.
“Our Great Hobby” is an enlightening survey. It reveals not only the underlying attitudes of men who buy sex, but more importantly indicates that the best way to fight commercial sexual exploitation is to address demand.