Who buys a 14-year-old for sex?

Thanks to an amazing grant from the Society of Professional Journalists I have started work on a long-term project that will explore the dark world of sex trafficking, in the United States and in other countries.

I’ve written and read a fair amount about this issue in recent years, but the deeper I’ve dug into it in recent weeks the more I’ve felt like Jon Snow: I know nothing.

It’s a much more complex issue — deeply rooted in gender, ethnic and economic inequities — than most of us realize. And unfortunately, much of the journalism produced on the issue stops at the “it exists and it’s bad” level. My goal is to push well beyond that.

The project’s focus at this point is on the demand side. Who buys a 14-year-old for sex? (That age of victim/survivor has turned up often in the court records and news reports I’ve read). What steps are most effective in reducing demand? Who profits from that demand, in both the underground and above the surface economies?

I have a lot of questions, and the plan is to share answers and pose fresh questions on Medium over the next several months as the reporting phase of the project progresses.

Next week, I’m scheduled to interview Siddharth Kara, director of the Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and author of “Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery.” I’ll post a summary of that interview next week.

If you have questions or comments, please contact me at tim.swarens@indystar.com.