Very few people living in the Seattle area will have failed to hear about the law enforcement operations that took place in early January that resulted in the shutdown of The Review Board, a major sex buying website linked to cases of commercial sexual exploitation.
The Review Board encouraged buyers of commercial sex to comment directly about their experiences and ‘rate’ the women they met. It is estimated that the site had around 20,000 members.
Fourteen suspects were arrested, most of whom are accused of being prolific sex buyers who posted about their experiences online and encouraged others to follow suit. Many of these suspects are employed by businesses based in this area. Employers are waking up to smell the proverbial coffee and are starting to realize that this issue is closer to home than they may have originally thought.
As these cases are being prosecuted, information on people buying sex, and those promoting sexual exploitation, is becoming publicly available, posing a serious reputational risk to employers.
Some may argue that what a person does on their own time is none of their employer’s business, but it raises the question: Is sex-buying something businesses should be concerned about?
Businesses should be concerned. It is increasingly evident that the vast majority of people buying sex online are employed by businesses. Indeed, evidence suggests that many of those soliciting sex online are browsing these websites from their places of work, during the workday, and with one of the ‘peak times’ being 2 p.m.
And the people promoting prostitution are directly targeting this group of buyers. Sites offer ‘lunchtime specials’, ‘employee discounts’ and clearly state their locations close to the large employers, expressing convenience for the ‘lunchtime’ or ‘after-work’ buyer.
Many large businesses have wonderful initiatives to help prevent sexual exploitation and to support vulnerable people who may be recruited by sex traffickers. Companies are recognized for using their core businesses to work extensively on online safety. They provide job training to vulnerable youth. They support amazing local service providers thought philanthropy and through employee volunteer programs.
However the patterns that are emerging are putting the reputations of these businesses at risk. Data is showing who is online buying sex, and when. And there is a clear inconsistency between how businesses are engaging with these issues externally, and the behaviors of employees internally.
The law-enforcement activity around The Review Board has not only catapulted this issue into into the ‘in-boxes’ of businesses, it has also given them a great opportunity to start looking how they can engage with issues of employee behavior before their reputation is really put on the line.
Catherine Manney works with Businesses Ending Slavery & Trafficking. She helps businesses understand their risks and opportunities around sex trafficking prevention.
Photo Credit: Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times