The sex trade in the Valley is booming, and while law enforcement groups are learning more about the victims and their traffickers, little is known about the customers - also known as johns - until now.
"They are so protected by anonymity," said ASU Professor Dominique Roe-Sepowitz. "They don't have to drive where there are prostitutes on the corner."
ASU researchers posted an ad on Backpage.com for 15 cities, including Phoenix, and kept track of the men who called or texted and their area codes.
"Some of the messages we got from voicemails and texts sound like this: 'Can we hook up? What kind of guys are you into?'" Roe-Sepowitz said.
Then they posted the same ad one week later, again keeping track of the area codes that responded. They made note of the repeat callers, and using a formula, came up with a rough estimate of the johns in each city.
"We believe one in every 20 men in the Phoenix metro area, not just the city of Phoenix, are responding to online ads," Roe-Sepowitz said.
The researchers believe there are more than 78,000 men in the Phoenix metro area looking to buy sex online; that's more than enough to fill the U.S. Airways Center four times over.
"If it were not for the demand for our the victims, then we would not have as many victims," Phoenix Police Lt. Jim Gallagher said. He said the number the researchers came up with is shocking, and they want to focus on educating the public.
"What the consequences are of demand, what it means for the individual and what it means for the johns themselves and what it means for the community at large," Gallagher said.
Out of the 15 cities they studied, Houston, Kansas City and Las Vegas had the highest percentage of johns. Phoenix ranked sixth.
Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.
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