HARTFORD, CT — Emphasizing that the sex industry — especially when it involves underage children — is a form of human trafficking, the Connecticut Trafficking in Persons Council (TIP) is making several legislative recommendations aimed at going after the buyers of sex.

“Conversations about sex trafficking almost exclusively disregard the role of the individual buying sex — the ‘john’,” said Jillian Gilchrest, chair of TIP and Director of Health Professional Outreach at the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“The sex trafficking of Connecticut’s women, men, and children is driven by demand for the sex acts they perform,” Gilchrest said.

“Put simply, without ‘buyers’ to purchase sex there would be no sex-for-pay industry. So, we are embarking on an ‘End Demand’ campaign to bring much needed attention to those buying sex who create the demand that fuels sex trafficking.”

The group released the report Wednesday.

Trafficking in persons has been a felony in Connecticut since 2006, when the General Assembly passed Public Act 06-43.

But at a forum on sex trafficking held last year at the Legislative Office Building, many of the speakers also repeated another theme — that the state’s law is inferior to the federal legislation in place to pursue, arrest, and convict those who prey upon children in the human trafficking field.

That is in part, those speakers said, because many of the cases involve crossing state lines.

At that forum, Deirdre Daly, U.S. Attorney for the state of Connecticut, said that while she did not want people to think there has been inactivity in this area, “human trafficking has been a top priority in my office. But the [federal] statute is easier to prove. The feds have a grand jury system and subpoena power” that are not available to state authorities.

Since 2013, when Connecticut increased patronizing a prostitute to a Class C felony, no arrests have been made.

Figuring out why is one of the recommendations in the newly released report.

Other recommendations include the following:

• Examining why DCF has seen an increase in the trafficking of children; currently, there are 456 referrals for children at high risk of trafficking.

• Law enforcement and state’s prosecutors argue that those buying sex with children and exploited adults can be charged with other crimes, such as sexual assault in the second-degree or risk of injury. The council will be looking into this to better understand if buyers of sex are being arrested, and if not, why?

• Connecticut lawmakers, state agencies, and advocates need to work together to better understand the demand side of sex trafficking in order to effectively prevent this crime from happening. This begins with creating awareness, since more often than not, those buying sex are left out of conversations about human trafficking. With the use of social media, traditional media, and advertising, the TIP Council hopes to raise public awareness about the individuals in our state who choose to pay to sexually abuse children and exploited individuals.

“Reports of children suspected to be victims of domestic minor sex trafficking are increasing every year — and, in 2016, there were just under 200 such referrals,” said Tammy Sneed, director of Gender Responsive Adolescent Services at the Department of Children and Families and co-chair of DCF’s Human Anti-Trafficking Response Team.

“For every child victim, the number of buyers on a given day in Connecticut is unfathomable. Some children report 10 to 15 buyers per night, which leads us to estimate that a minimum of 2,000 buyers in Connecticut bought sex from children last year,” Sneed said.

Another perspective on why it’s vital to go after the demand side comes from the Alliance to End Sexual Violence (formerly CONNSACS).

“Demand keeps sexual exploitation and trafficking profitable,” Beth Hamilton, associate director of the Alliance, said. “We’ve started seeing the criminal justice system hold traffickers responsible, but we do not often see the people who purchase sex being held accountable for their role in keeping the industry thriving. If we want to end commercial sexual exploitation, we need to focus on ending demand and creating survivor-centered services.”