Who are Individuals that Willingly Purchase People?

Author: Kimberly Fortson

Human trafficking. The words strike fear and anger into many who read them. It is the purchase and sale of human beings for exploitative purposes, be it labor, sex, etc. The sex trafficking industry is arguably what human trafficking is most known for, especially in regards to women and young children. The actual number of victims is hard to know, but the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported that in 2017 there were 8,524 cases of human trafficking reported and 26,557 calls about human trafficking to the hotline. The International Labor Organization in 2012 stated that there could be as many as 21 million people who are trafficked around the world (Bach, Diane & Litam, 2017). With the magnitude of this problem, it may seem as though there is no way to handle and help everyone who may need it, but we must try. Since the trade is undertaken internationally, it is vital that the international community work together to help victims, catch traffickers, and help slow the systems that are in place that allow people to be vulnerable to trafficking (Gallagher & Holmes, 2008; Wetizer, 2007).

It is important to clarify the difference between consensual sex work and human trafficking (Weitzer, 2007). Sex work is when a person who is of age decides to work selling sexual acts or time (escorting), while sex trafficking is when a person is forced or coerced into selling sexual acts for the benefit of the person or people selling them. Not all sex workers are sexually trafficked (Weitzer, 2007).

Who are the people who would willingly and knowingly purchase people who are forced into the sex trade and how do they handle the psychological weight of purchasing another human being for sexual slavery, especially children? For those who purchase juveniles for sexual relations, they have many of the same characteristics as situational (availability), preferential (sexually attracted to children), and opportunistic (will be sexually active with anyone) child molesters (Bach et al., 2017). And they can be almost anyone (Swarens, 2018). One in seven people admits to having purchased sex at some point their lives (Trouteaud, n.d.). Most people who buy sex are white, married, middle-class men (Weber, 2017).

Many individuals who sexually abuse children engage in cognitive distortion habits, such as telling themselves that if the child is smiling or if they give the child a present, that the child is consenting (Bach et al., 2017). We want to argue that most people who (knowingly) purchase trafficked individuals also engage in these practices to lessen the guilt of purchasing a sex slave.

Human trafficking is a heinous crime that must be combatted. Law enforcement needs to continue to receive training in finding victims, treating them with respect, and penalizing both those who buy sex from a trafficked victims and those who sell victims (Gallager & Holmes, 2008). Human trafficking will never completely go away, but we should try to curb and control it as much as we can.


  1. Bach, J. E., & Litam, S. D. A. (2017). “Kind regards”: An examination of one buyer's attempt to purchase a trafficked child for sex. Journal of sexual aggression23(2), 222-233.

  2. Gallagher, A., & Holmes, P. (2008). Developing an effective criminal justice response to human trafficking: Lessons from the front line. International criminal justice review18(3), 318 343.

  3. Hotline Statistics. (n.d.). In National Human Trafficking Hotline. Retrieved September 28, 2018,

Ashleigh Diserio Consulting works with individuals and organizations, assisting them in gleaning insight into a person’s life, motivation, and past and future behavior, so certain areas of behavior can be understood with a high degree of accuracy. We provide services in the areas of criminal and intelligence investigations, management support, threat assessment, insider threat support, and education and training.