Technology and CSEM September 2012

The following is a condensed version of a project proposal on Technology and the facilitation of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Minors: Improving Understanding and Developing Solutions Across Two Cities. Please contact me for more information.

The proposal was prepared by Mary A. Finn, Ph.D. Georgia State University, Department of Criminal Justice (Principal Investigator) and Loretta J. Stalans, Loyola University Chicago, Departments of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Psychology, Women’s Studies and Gender Studies (Co-Principal Investigator)


Purpose and Contribution of Proposed Research

Potential for Extramural Support



The commercial sexual exploitation of minors (CSEM) is defined in our research as having minors perform actual or fantasy sex for money, and either receiving profits from this activity (known as pimps) or receiving the sex (known as johns). The estimated number of arrests in 2006 of perpetrators of CSEM was 7,010 (Wolak et al., 2009). CSEM is a form of sex trafficking, and pimps may control underage prostitutes through physical, verbal, and sexual violence, forced prostitution, and forced or encouraged drug use (Ashley, 2008). Victims of CSEM may suffer mental and physical health problems, and have difficulty leaving due to intimidation and violence of pimps (e.g., Ashley, 2008).

CSEM is a complex problem that primarily occurs in large urban areas in the United States (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2004), and affects almost equally male and female teens (Curtis, Terry & Dank, 2008; Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2004). Few studies have focused on understanding the demand side of CSEM, especially how technologies and the internet are used to promote and solicit minors into prostitution, and whether advances in technologies have expanded and changed CSEM. Prostituted victims of internet-facilitated CSE primarily consist of teenagers who have made explicit statements about sex in on-line messages and disclosed vulnerabilities, such as an abusive victimization history or engaging in risky behavior; these teenagers are more likely to be manipulated through false promises of romance, security, and love (Wolak et al., 2008). Runaways and vulnerable youths with a history of physical or sexual abuse are also targets of sex trafficking (Wolak et al., 2008). Victims of internet-facilitated CSE compared to the population of CSE youth are significantly more likely to have failing grades and prior involvement with the criminal justice system (Mitchell et al., 2011).

Minors are the preferred prostituted victims. Research indicates that prostituted persons on average are between 12 and 16 years of age when they are first prostituted (e.g., Estes & Weiner, 2001; Farley, 2003; Shannon et al., 2009). For example, in an Atlanta sample of johns, half reported a preference for minors (Abt. Associates Inc., 2010). When men answered a hypothetical ad about erotic services with a young female and were unsuspectingly interviewed, nearly 40% of the 218 men indicated that they preferred a female who was young and were willing to ignore warnings about the increased sanctions if the female providing services might be under age 18 (Schapiro Group, 2010). In a Chicago sample, three quarters of the johns reported that age was an important criterion in their decision to purchase sex and 8 in 10 felt that most men preferred young prostitutes (Durchslag & Goswami, 2008).

Purpose and Contribution of Proposed Research

The proposed research will be conducted in two locations: Chicago, Illinois and Atlanta, Georgia. In both cities, underage prostituted victims are quite prevalent. For example, the Senate Research Office of Georgia (2008), based on a review of research, indicated about 200 to 300 girls are commerically sexually exploited each month in Georgia. Moreover, between 50-100 minors were advertised on Craigslist each month in Georgia. The FBI, in 2003, identified Chicago and Atlanta as in the top 14 cities having high rates of sex trafficking and prostitution of minors (Ashley, 2008; Senate Research Office of Georgia, 2008). Illinois had the fourth highest call volume and Georgia had the 11th highest call volume to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline in 2010 (National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 2010). A system-wide assessment of Cook County and the City of Chicago’s response to prostitution in 2005 led to a number of recommendations that have resulted in a focus on johns and sex traffickers and providing more treatment for prostitutes (Sweet, 2006). Both Chicago and Atlanta are one of three cities where coordinated community “End Demand” campaigns have been implemented to arrest johns and pimps (Abt Associates Inc., 2010; Sweet, 2006). Illinois in 2010 enacted the Safe Children Act and became the first state to provide minors under 18 with immunity from prosecution for prostitution. Georgia in 2011 passed a trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude law that allows minors to avoid being charged with prostitution if they can demonstrate they were coerced, and it establishes a minimum sentence of not less than 10 and no more than 20 years if convicted of trafficking of a minor. Selecting these two locations, thus, will build on earlier research that occurred before Craigslist was forced to remove its escort advertisement section and before End Demand efforts began.

As the review of research in the next section indicates, little is known about how pimps and johns communicate, connect, and interact with each other. Moreover, little research has addressed how technologies facilitate pimps’ search for vulnerable minors to manipulate and coerce into prostitution, and simplify johns’ search for underage prostitutes. Building on the scant prior research, our proposed multi-method research design utilizes a content analysis of postings by johns and advertisements for escort or sexual services and qualitative interviews with johns and pimps. It aims to understand the argot, shared language between johns and pimps that communicates the desire for, or availability of, underage prostituted victims. The research will provide valuable information about how technology and the internet have changed the pimps’ and johns’ modus of operation in CSEM. The following questions will be addressed:

  1. What argot do pimps use to advertise underage prostitutes, and how are the sites and technologies connected to promote underage prostitutes?
  2. What is the shared argot between pimps and their regular customers who seek to sexually exploit minors, and how does it evolve and change over time?
  3. Are their differences between pimps who have a history of both prostitution and pimping compared to those who only served as pimps in their use of the internet, argot with johns, and the identifiers used to convey that underage prostitutes are available?
  4. What are the niche sites, the forums, and websites used to discover local “legitimate” adult erotic venues and how are these forums used to provide access to underage minors?
  5. How has the internet changed the johns’ and pimps’ modus of operation toward CSEM? Are vulnerable minors recruited and groomed in a wider range of locations? Has the internet increased transporting underage prostitutes to different locations within and across state lines? Have pimps expanded their business to promote fantasy sex with minors, and voyeurism of minors engaged in sex acts or masturbation? How frequently is information about law enforcement activities posted on forums, and do johns change how, when, and where they contact underage prostitutes or the pimps managing the underage prostitutes?

Potential for Extramural Support

Starting in 2010 the federal government has committed significant amounts of funding to address modern day slavery’s victims, including child trafficking victims. For domestic trafficking, several divisions within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) received increases: 25% or $12.5 million for expansion of services to victims and 50% or $5.3 million for investigations and prosecutions. In efforts to broaden the nation’s response to international trafficking, the Department of States” Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP) received increases of 34% or $6 million and the Department of Labor received a 7% increase or $93 million.

Federal agencies funding both research and policy addressing human trafficking include: Department of State, USAID, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, and the Middle East Partnership Initiative.

In FY 2013 Office of Victims of Crime (OVC) obligated $1,070 million for the Crime Victims Fund: $67 million was earmarked for the Missing and Exploited Children Program, including $22 million for Internet Crimes Against Children; $10.5 million for Victims of trafficking; $20 million for implementation of the Adam Walsh Act designed to establish minimum standards for sex offender registration and notification; and $23 million for children exposed to violence. While much of this amount is allocated to support local and state agencies who provide direct service provision, in FY 2010 in its National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction: A Report to Congress DOJ documented it spent over $6.3 million, the Department of Labor spent over $24 million, the Department of State spent over $11 million, and US Agency for International Development spent over $2.5 million to fund evaluation and/or research and data collection for trafficking in persons projects. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) funded over 17 large scale studies between 2004 and 2010 that address commercial sexual exploitation, including several that focused on how the internet facilitated victimization of youth. In addition, for FY 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has prioritized protection of vulnerable individuals in its budget request. This group includes refugees and vulnerable youth; $5 million is budgeted to combat domestic sex trafficking.

The National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the DOJ, has announced solicitation for funding of proposals to address human trafficking each year since 2008. Typically one million dollars is available, and the average awards typically do not exceed $500,000. In addition to solicitations for trafficking, NIJ funds related areas of research, such as sexual violence and children’s exposure to violence, with average solicitations of $1 million to as high as $2.5 million.


Mary A. Finn, Ph.D. in Criminal Justice, State University of New York at Albany is currently a Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA. Dr. Finn’s research focuses on public policy responses to violence against women and children. She has published more than 20 research publications and recently completed a National Institute of Justice research project (funded for $480,000) to evaluate Atlanta/Fulton County’s Community-Coordinated Response to CSEC. Vitae is available at: Dr. Finn and a graduate student trained in interviewing offenders will conduct interviews of offeenders in Atlanta. Dr. Finn will also be responsible for overall financial management and reporting on the project. She will also conduct the content analysis of postings by johns and advertisements for escort or sexual services in the Atlanta area. She will serve as Principal Investigator (PI).

Loretta Stalans, Ph.D. in Social Psychology from University of Illinois-Chicago, is currently a Professor in the Departments of Criminal Justice and Criminology and Psychology, and in the Women’s Studies and Gender Studies Program at Loyola University Chicago. Dr. Stalans’ research focuses on sex offenders, pimps and prostitutes, and violence against women and children. She completed five grants to evaluate four specialized sex offender adult probation programs in the State of Illinois, and two specialized probation programs for women offenders. She regularly teaches sexual violence as well as intimate partner violence. She has published more than 50 research publications, with many in the area of sexual violence or violence against women. Vitae is available at Dr Stalans, a graduate student trained in interviewing will conduct interviews with offenders in Chicago. Dr. Stalans will also conduct the content analysis of postings by johns and advertisements for escort or sexual services in the Chicago area. Dr. Stalans will serve as co-PI.

Drs. Stalans and Finn will collaborate on all aspects of the data collection and data analyses across the two sites, will jointly prepare the white paper required, and prepare at least three scholarly articles for publication for academic audiences and at least one article for publication for practitioners, such as law enforcement. Dr. Stalans and Finn have successfully collaborated in prior research endeavors. However, there most recent collaboration was in 1994 when Dr. Stalans was on faculty at GSU.

Kulsoom Abdullah (Consultant) received her PhD at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. She is currently working as a visiting scholar in the Communications Assurance & Performance Group & School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech. Her research focuses on networking, specifically visualization for network security. She has published research on self monitoring of web tools. Her research interests are applied Humanitarian Research, Human Computer Interaction, Information Networks, Security, & Visualization. More information on her work and publications is available at: Dr. Abdullah will assist the researchers in three ways: educate and train about the current technologies and how they interface; assist with the technology content-related questions in qualitative interviews; assist with content analyses that centers on the identification of technology-related content from websites, discussion forums, etc. used in communication between buyers, sellers and service providers. She will be based in Atlanta.

Brenda Myers-Powell (Consultant) is a researcher and co-author of the 2010 report from the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center of DePaul University College of Law entitled, From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex-Pimps in Chicago. Ms. Powell has 25 years as a prostitute, and left prostitution many years ago to start a foundation called DreamCatchers ( to assist young girls and prevent them from becoming prostitutes. She will be the primary referral source for pimps in Chicago.


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