Study Examines Business Side of Prostitution

Wednesday, 12 Mar 2014 10:04 AM

By Courtney Coren

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The Urban Institute released a massive new study Wednesday attempting to show the size and structure of the sex industry in America, including the  money it generates and suggestions on how to combat it.

The study, commissioned by the Justice Department, looked at seven cities — Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Miami, San Diego, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. — examining the business side of prostitution and providing "scientifically rigorous estimates for the revenue generated in the underground commercial sex economies" in those cities in 2003 and 2007.

The profits in 2007 ranged from $39.9 million in Denver to $290 million in Atlanta. However, the sex industry shrank since 2003 in all of the cities examined except for Atlanta and Seattle. The biggest drop was in Washington, D.C., by 34 percent.

Due to the illicit nature of the business, it was difficult for researchers at the Urban Institute to find pimps who were willing to talk to them. However, they were able to interview 73 convicted pimps in 2012 and 2013, who provided them with information.

"To run a successful sex business requires recruiting, job training, marketing, setting prices, arranging date details, providing transportation if necessary, protecting the staff, collecting and managing money, and seeing to the needs of the employees," the study says.

The staff ranged from two to 36 employees, which included non-sex workers who assisted as "drivers, bodyguards, nannies to care for employees' children, and ad distributors."

Pimps also tried to build relationships with legal businesses, such as those in the hotel industry, cellphone companies, photographers, night clubs, clothing retailers, car dealerships, and adult stores. Some even built relationships with local police officers — who partook in the business as clients and would tip them off if a sting operation was expected.

Nearly half said they used online ads to bring in business via classifieds, social media, chat rooms, and dating websites, which has helped limit the physical risks of the business. However, some said the downside is that it also provides a way "for police to document transactions."

Pimps and traffickers made between $5,000 and $32,000 a week, while the employees may make as little as $5 for each sex act.

Women are recruited from mass transit stations, nightclubs, strip clubs, malls, high schools, college campuses, and neighborhoods where prostitution is prevalent. Pimps often use coercion and manipulation as part of their hiring process.

However, most said that it was important to stay away from minors because that's what cops focus on most.

"For their part, nearly one-third of the pimps said they entered the underground commercial sex economy because they grew up around it," the study found.

Some said it was also a way to get out of drug dealing and that they didn't like to manage employees who used drugs, other than maybe marijuana and alcohol.

Researchers recommend that policymakers increase training, communications, education, and tackle the online nature of the business by imposing steeper fines and penalties. They also say that law enforcement should share information across cities, since groups tend to migrate, and they recommend public campaigns.

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