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Disruptive social events such as the COVID-19 pandemic can have a significant impact on sex trafficking and the working conditions of victims, yet these effects have been little understood. This paper examines the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on sex trafficking in the United States, based on analysis of over one million sexual service advertisements from the online platform, using indicators of third-party management as potential proxies for trafficking. Our results show that there have been measurable changes in online commercial sexual service advertising, both with and without third-party management indicators, in the United States, with a significant decrease occurring around the time of the start of the pandemic and the issuance of stay-at-home orders followed by an increase to levels well above pre-pandemic levels corresponding in time to when COVID-related restrictions were relaxed. We argue that the initial decrease could have been induced by a loss of demand for sexual services due to pandemic-related health concerns, but that a confluence of factors, including the lack of economic and social support for those working in the commercial sex industry, may have increased the number of people vulnerable to being exploited and becoming trafficking victims. This research adds to the under-standing of the way sex trafficking adapts to events in the public sphere.


© 2023 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way. The terms on which this article has been published allow the posting of the Accepted Manuscript in a repository by the author(s) or with their consent.