Who's buying sex in MN? Married white men, study says

A report released Wednesday answers very basic questions about the people who buy sex in Minnesota, addressing a major gap in the research nationwide.

The information is key in finding other ways to combat sex trafficking in the state, said Mary Beth Hanson, vice president of external relations, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.

It's a difficult topic to research as it's hidden, illegal, highly stigmatized and dangerous, said Lauren Martin, director of research for the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center at the University of Minnesota.

Researchers interviewed criminal justice and social services workers, reviewed court cases, gathered print media coverage and analyzed online advertisements.

The research provides backing for what law enforcement know anecdotally, said Drew Evans, superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

“We want to make sure there is no safe place for (traffickers) to operate in the state of Minnesota,” Evans said. At this point in 2017, Minnesota law enforcement has more than doubled the number of investigations than this time a year ago, he said.

More can be done to interrupt demand, he said.

“We all need to work collectively to change our culture,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re educating boys and men that it is not OK to buy sex.”

Who purchases sex?

Data confirm that sex buyers are predominantly middle-aged, white, married men from across Minnesota. Men of color and women purchase sex in much lower numbers.

They come from a wide variety of employment sectors: businessmen, doctors, lawyers, dentists, judges, professors, police officers, correctional officers, pastors, executives, truck drivers, manual laborers, farmers and sailors.

READ MORE: "Sex trafficking: The Victims Next Door," the awarding-winning St. Cloud Times series on trafficking in Central Minnesota.

Another recent study estimated 14 percent of men in the U.S. report having paid for sex. Only 1 percent report doing so in the past year. So in Minnesota, about 26,000 men may have purchased sex in the past year. It is likely law enforcement has identified less than 1 percent of people who have purchased sex in Minnesota.

Where do sex buyers purchase sex?

Sex buyers typically do not purchase sex in their hometowns. Data suggests most travel 30-60 miles; some travel much farther to purchase sex with minors.

Travel protects anonymity and privacy, helps the buyer hide the behavior from their family and law enforcement and gives them variety and convenience.

It was most commonly linked to the work day, meaning men buy sex while driving to and from work and on lunch breaks. Business trips and vacations such as hunting, fishing and overnight bachelor parties were also places sex was purchased.

How do men purchase sex?

Most sex buyers use the internet to find what they're looking for. The study identified 37 sites where advertisements for sex are posted. Backpage.com is a key site, and social media is increasingly being used to buy sex with minors. A subset of buyers use the deep web to find child pornography and to buy sex with very young children.

Street-based prostitution and word-of-mouth were less common ways men bought sex.

What do sex buyers want to buy?

There is no single profile of what sex buyers seek, but most seek quick, anonymous sex with no emotional connection. The average transaction takes half an hour.

“Most buyers are looking for young adults, but many are willing to purchase sex from a minor, if offered,” Martin said.

Types of acts sought include oral sex, vaginal penetration, anal sex, acts found in pornography —  the so-called "porn-star experience" — and some so-called fetish acts.

Some men offer to pay more for sex without a condom. Some want to pay to be violent.

Researchers found that some sex buyers will "seek acts that humiliate and harm the provider/victim, such as derogatory language, defecation and urination, rough sex, physical assault, sexual assault, rape and in rare cases, murder."

“This research shows commercial sex industry is not just about a desire to purchase sex. It is about a desire in some to cause harm and use payment as a means to cause that harm,” said Lauren Ryan, the Safe Harbor and No Wrong Door director for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Researchers also found a trend of racialized sexual violence among some buyers, who seek a trafficked person of color to reenact slavery or colonization. Transgender women and gay men are sometimes sought specifically to harm them due to transphobia and homophobia, according to the study. Researchers found a pricing hierarchy based on age and race, Martin said.

This study is just one step, all agreed.

“We’re all interested in going further upstream,” Ryan said. “Part of a public health model is that we must reach the demand. We need to find better ways to dissuade them: education, awareness and changing the cultural norms that it is not acceptable in our society to purchase another human being for sex.”

“All of us must commit to a future where girls and women are safe and valued,” Hanson said.

Follow Stephanie Dickrell on Twitter @SctimesSteph, like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sctimessteph, call her at 255-8749 or find more stories at www.sctimes.com/sdickrell.

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