The Virtual Construction of a Community that Normalizes Commercial Sexual Exploitation: A Mixed Methods Analysis

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Dawn Bounds, MSN, PMHNP-BC
Community, Systems, & Mental Health Nursing, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL, USA

The underground nature of the commercial sex industry has made it difficult to articulate numbers of women, men, children, and communities impacted by the harms inherent in an industry built upon exploitation. What is known is that both detrimental physical and mental health harms exist as a result of commercial sexual exploitation. Unfortunately, with increased availability of the internet, access to commercial sex sites has increased. A study conducted in 8 states estimated that underground commercial sex was a $39.9 to $290 million industry in 2007 (Dank et al., 2014).  The revenue generated undoubtedly fuels the demand for commercial sex and the internet has served to propel the commercialization of sex forward.

     The internet has not only transformed and increased the availability and visibility of the commercial sex trade; it also has been used as an integral tool for marketing commercial sex. The USA Sex Guide, a large free website used to educate men on how to buy sex with women, serves as a training ground for men who purchase sex with women (Janson, 2013).  Over 800 visitors are online reading the USA Sex Guide at any given moment.  The anonymity that is provided by the internet allows visitors to read and post explicit descriptions of sexual exploitation without fear of repercussions.

     While women involved in prostitution have been studied extensively, the men who buy sex and drive the demand for commercial sex have remained invisible to researchers, policy makers, and law enforcement. The purpose of this poster presentation is to explore the findings of a pilot study on how a commercial sex website facilitates the normalization of commercial sexual exploitation by building a virtual community of buyers.   A content analysis of the postings of Illinois men who frequent the USA Sex Guide was studied for virtual community building strategies used to normalize commercial sexual exploitation.  Evidence of community building in this virtual setting was apparent and included elements of relationship building and educating, establishing of a common language and social structure, and normalizing exploitation.  Key words were counted and provide additional evidence for the themes found. These findings add to the literature in support of the internet as a facilitator of commercial sexual exploitation and offers insight into how virtual communities such as this one can be used to normalize exploitation of vulnerable populations. An exploration on how this research can be used to build awareness and ignite action will also be employed.