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J Interpers Violence. 2017 Jul 1:886260517723141. doi: 10.1177/0886260517723141. [Epub ahead of print]

Uncovering Indicators of Commercial Sexual Exploitation.

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1 Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL, USA.


It is estimated that annually 100,000 to 300,000 youth are at risk for sex trafficking; a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or any such act where the person induced to perform such an act is younger than 18 years of age. Increasingly, such transactions are occurring online via Internet-based sites that serve the commercial sex industry. Commercial sex transactions involving trafficking are illegal; thus, Internet discussions between those involved must be veiled. Even so, transactions around sex trafficking do occur. Within these transactions are innuendos that provide one avenue for detecting potential activity. The purpose of this study is to identify linguistic indicators of potential commercial sexual exploitation within the online comments of men posted on an Internet site. Six hundred sixty-six posts from five Midwest cities and 363 unique members were analyzed via content analysis. Three main indicators were found: the presence of youth or desire for youthfulness, presence of pimps, and awareness of vulnerability. These findings begin a much-needed dialogue on uncovering online risks of commercial sexual exploitation and support the need for further research on Internet indicators of sex trafficking.


Internet and abuse; media and violence; prostitution/sex work


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