Invisible Offenders: Estimating Online Sex Customers

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, Stephanie Bontrager Ryon, Kristine Hickle, James M. Gallagher, Eric Hedberg

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Scopus citations


    Research on prostitution demand has well documented why men buy sex from girls and women, but there is very little understanding of the scope and scale of the issue. The lack of stable and valid measures of how many people buy sex from prostituted persons severely hinders the development of prevention and intervention efforts. This study developed a probability estimate of the population of active customers of online sex in the United States in a sample of 15 cities. In each city, the research team placed decoy online ads, advertising the sale of sexual services/prostitution, and collected text and voicemail data from potential sex purchasers. The resulting 677 phone numbers were analyzed using capture-recapture techniques to create an estimate of the number of online sex purchasers within each city. On average, within the 15 markets explored, 1 out of every 20 males over the age of 18 in a metropolitan city area was soliciting online sex ads. These results demonstrate (a) the viability of new techniques to estimate buyer populations and (b) preliminary figures on the number of purchasers buying sex online.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)272-280
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Human Trafficking
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


    • Customers
    • demand
    • prostitution
    • sex buyers
    • sex market
    • sex trafficking

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Demography
    • Anthropology
    • Transportation
    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Law


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