Decreasing the demand for commercial sex is often considered the most difficult effort to combat sex trafficking. While an increasing number of jurisdictions have laudably shifted their focus away from arresting potential victims and toward arresting buyers and traffickers, the resource-intensive nature of stings means that even large cities can often only arrest a few hundred buyers a year—a fraction of the total buyer population. Former Seattle prosecutor Val Richey has noted that a single new online commercial sex ad can get a few hundred responses in an hour. Therefore, while arrest may be an effective deterrent for some buyers, arrests alone are not a sufficiently scalable approach to curb demand.
In general, there has been an absence of rigor in evaluating the effectiveness of the various deterrence tactics that have been deployed. No one really knows to what extent demand can be decreased, or which methods are most effective, because of the lack of quantified insights. Proven preventative measures are badly needed. Below is a review of deterrence tactics, and what is known—or not—about their impacts. Given the numerous gaps, we have highlighted key questions for data collection needed to develop measurable, evidence-based demand reduction models.