COVID -19 and Sex Trafficking (Part 1)


  • The Underground Commercial Sex Economy is being affected by COVID- 19 relative to other markets however, the demand remains intact so the supply will also
  • The exploitation will continue at a steady rate with potential market alterations and venue changes. For example, cam sites and pornography will grow significantly.
  • The risk to victims is increased
  • This pandemic offers a unique opportunity to identify the worst traffickers and worst buyers
  • Guardian Group must continue to press the fight


With COVID-19 wreaking havoc across the globe, interrupting our lives and devastating markets, most businesses are looking inward and working to contain the effects of this virus, stem losses, and are waiting to see how things will develop. In many ways, Guardian Group is no different, we are following the recommendations from the CDC and our team is practicing social distancing in the office and balancing it with staying in the fight.

In other ways, Guardian Group is different, we cannot afford to take any time off. The exploitation of victims continues. In fact, our Intelligence Directorate is working overtime this week. We are looking at how this pandemic is affecting this illicit industry, trying to measure quantitatively and qualitatively what is happening and planning how to combat sex trafficking in this current environment and the one to come.


The first thing you need to understand that selling sex is big business. The profits are ridiculously high. The oppression and exploitation of sex trafficking allows for the greatest margin of profits for the traffickers and they will not wait for a “healthier environment” to continue making the amount of money that they expect and demand. Guardian Group focuses almost exclusively on the commercial sexual exploitation of children on the internet. We are not looking at street prostitution, pornography, or cam sites. For those of you that do not know what cam sites are, they started as a niche part of the pornography business, “camming,” or the streaming of live sex performances, raked in $1 billion in 2013 and is continuing to grow. It’s become “the engine of the porn industry” with traffic to the most popular camming Internet sites getting 30 million visitors a month [1]. Force, fraud, and coercion (the elements of sex trafficking) can and do exist in the camming world but it is very difficult to prove. And while camming provides another platform to live out your selfish sexual fantasies, buying women and children for sex remains a lucrative market.

Commercial sex trafficking is estimated to bring in global profits of about $100 billion a year [2]. There’s no accurate estimate on how much money sex trafficking makes in the US and there is no official number of human trafficking victims in the US, but estimates place the victims at hundreds of thousands [3], and a study from 10 years ago that interviewed pimps and traffickers found that traffickers took home between $5,000 and $32,833 a week. [4]

Often, we focus on the buyer, and the victim, and rightly so, we are barely scratching the surface with trafficking arrests, john / buyer arrests, and solid programs to give victims different options. We are not attacking this crime like the business model that it is. Traffickers use banks to deposit and launder their earnings; they use planes, buses and taxi services to transport their victims; they book hotel rooms integral to sex trafficking; and, they are active users of social media platforms to recruit and advertise the services of their victims.[5]

Understanding that sex trafficking is a business will help you understand how COVID-19 is impacting it. The trends are almost identical to how this pandemic is impacting other markets across the globe. Buyers and traffickers view sex trafficking, tragically, as a commodity market. An economy-wide drop in demand is going to affect every commodity market, including this one.

COVID-19 Impact

What Guardian Group and our partners are seeing is a steep decline in demand for the purchase of underground commercial sex. Our sense is the net result on trafficking as a business is experiencing a steep decline in revenue across the board. LE partners have slowed considerably on proactive policing and conducting stings and the results of their stings are showing steep decline in yields, though those few arrests that are being made are for high-frequency buyers (someone who purchases sex on a weekly or monthly basis). They are catching less buyers, but those buyers represent greater economic value.

We think we’re going to continue to see drops in numbers but if the online discussions we are observing are reflective of market reality, the COVID-19 scare represents an opportunity to pull the worst-of-the-worst out of your local community.

The most ruthless traffickers are continuing to push their victims to produce revenue and the most die hard, addicted, consumers, are continuing to purchase girls for sex.
What does Guardian Group do?

We continue to press the fight. As the market volume dips, it actually makes our online searching slightly more efficient because the “independent” sex workers are more likely to take a break during this pandemic and the low volume / occasional buyer is also more likely to take a break from his compulsion. Because this crime is so huge, we work hard to separate the “independent” sex worker from the trafficking victim that is under control of a pimp / trafficker. While we are not heavily involved in demand reduction, we also try to assist Law Enforcement in identifying the high-volume buyers, statistically supporting about 75% of this crime.[6]

What should you do?

Continue to support the non-profits and charities that are near and dear to your heart. Be even more vigilant for victims and signs of abuse. The added strains from COVID-19, pressures from pimps / traffickers, and demands from buyers may provide the ingredients necessary for some victims to be emboldened enough to seek help.

Word of Encouragement

Sexual exploitation happens 365 days a year in the United States. The current situation will not last, but the exploitation will. Let the current situation remind you that we are truly a blessed and privileged people where freedom is the expectation. But all are not free.  When you take the time to consider the vulnerable and the oppressed in your community, you are taking the first step in bringing change. Let these trying times lead you to inspired action.


Young girl looking off, american flag overlayed with the words until all are free
Never forget that we are all in this together and Guardian Group will not stop fighting Until All are Free.











Where otherwise credited, the data and information that largely contributed to this report came from

Guardian Group is a 501 C3 non-profit. Our mission is to prevent and disrupt the sex trafficking of women and children while enabling partners to identify victims and predators in the United States.


[2] According to the International Labor Organization

[3] Business Insider, James Pasley, Jul 25, 2019

[4] Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities

[5] Forbes- Feb 2, 2020 Carmen Niethammer