The Role of Technology in Illicit and Unregulated Markets

Giulia’s research focuses on illicit and unregulated markets, and on the role of technology in these markets. She is currently involved in a study on commercial sex markets in the UK, in collaboration with Dr Luca Giommoni (Cardiff University) and Dr G.J. Melendez-Torres (University of Exeter). The study focuses on online communities of men who purchase sex. It aims to understand how men who purchase sex understand and perceive the risks associated with buying sex, and to what extent online interactions on adult service websites inform clients’ decision-making processes offline.

In their first publication on this topic, an analysis of clients’ reviews found that a large number of reviews were in London and Milton Keynes. The relevance of Milton Keynes may be explained by a flourishing offline commercial sex market in the town, or by a high online engagement of clients active in that area. The study also showed that clients with many reviews travelled to several location to buy sex. This may suggest that prolific clients may travel looking for exclusive or potentially ‘niche’ services, or that people that travel frequently for personal reasons buy sex in different locations.

Future research will focus on norms, values, and beliefs shared by men who contribute to adult service websites, and the extent to which online communication between clients encourages responsible practices such as reporting suspected cases of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. This will help understand how clients respond to prostitution policy and legislation, which is particularly relevant in light of the ongoing debate regarding demand reduction policies in the context of sex work and sex trafficking.

By Dr Giulia Berlusconi, Digital Societies, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Department of Sociology.