Study sheds light on men who buy sex in Illinois

Johns communicate through a popular Internet website.

January 11, 2013

This article contains a graphic description of sexual violence.

A new report about Illinois men who turn to online message boards to discuss buying sex reveals how they evade law enforcement and engage one another through an anonymous, hypermasculine brotherhood.

The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation released the study Friday. It analyzed data from the USA Sex Guide, a website in which hetereosexual men refer to themselves as “hobbyists” and “mongers” of prostitution. During a three-month period johns in Illinois – from urban to suburban to rural – created 2,600 posts about buying sex. They shared strategies, errors and offered pep talks.

“Whereas in the past, men who learned about sex did so primarily through their own trial and error, now johns inform one another about the successes and failures other johns have experienced,” said Lara Janson, the study’s author. “To many men who buy sex, the johns' (message) boards are a critical resource in helping them feel empowered.”

Some sample comments: “I’ve had luck once picking up a girl, don’t know if she was a pro or not but she was dressed in civilian cloths [sic] (mid 20’s) standing in the middle of the street on touchy [sic] and McCormick on the north side. She was holding a sign that said she was recently a laid off seeking help. Offered to get her food at the mcdonalds on touchy [sic] and it led to some great sex for 60….the scene was not of a John picking up a pro but rather just civilians helping another. Isn’t that what we all do on this board?”

According to the report, these johns discuss inflicting violence on women and buying sex from girls who are potentially minors and victims of sex trafficking.

Men on these message boards also remark how law enforcement efforts to deter prostitution on the john side are effective. Reverse stings generate discussions about whether to continue buying sex.

“Policies that target them or increase law enforcement presence in areas where the commercial sex operates may simply end their cruise for a evening or it may end their mongering permanently,” Janson said.

On the other hand, many johns said that policies that single out prostituted women and men of color who buy sex don’t appear to deter them.

CAASE has argued for years that prostitutes should not be the target for arrests and prosecution. Advocates say this latest report underscores that message and reinforces the need to shift the culture around commercial sex.

“Based on this finding, we recommend that law enforcement agencies end the habitual arrest of prostituted people, collaborate with local providers to provide meaningful supportive services to prostituted people and screen them for potential trafficking in order to uncover trafficking crimes,” said Rachel Durchslag, CAASE executive director.

She said CAASE has yet to meet with law enforcement about the report.