Investigating the Oldest Profession: Prostitution and Science Meet, with Meredith Dank

March 31, 2014

This week, Point of Inquiry welcomes Meredith Dank, PhD, Senior Research Associate at the Urban Institute. Dank is the co-principal investigator on several international and domestic human trafficking projects, including the new study, “Estimating the Size and
Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities
”, which attempts to put dollar figures on prostitution in Atlanta, Denver, San Diego, Seattle, and other major municipalities.

Point of Inquiry goes behind the headlines to interrogate the methodology and meaning of this three-year study, which uses a complex
statistical model to extrapolate the size of sex markets from interview data from 73 incarcerated pimps and sex traffickers. We explore questions such as whether the interviewees are representative of the sex industry as a whole, and the role of trafficking in sex work.

This is point of inquiry from Monday, March 30 1st, 2014. 

Hello and welcome to Point of Inquiry. A production of the Center for Inquiry. I’m your host, Lindsay Beyerstein, and my guest today is Meredith. Thank the Urban Institute. Meredith is the lead author of a sweeping new study estimating the size of the market for prostitution in several major U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Denver, San Diego and Seattle. Prostitution may be the oldest profession, but because it’s illegal, we know surprisingly little about how the industry actually works. You may have read about the study in The New York Times or The Washington Post, but today on point of inquiry, we go behind the headlines to examine the methodology behind the research. This three year study estimated that the sex market in Atlanta was worth two hundred and ninety million in 2007, compared to just 40 million in Denver. The study includes interviews with 73 incarcerated pimps and traffickers and 36 sex workers. The number of pimps interviewed from each city ranged from three in Seattle to 17 in San Diego. The study also gathered more qualitative information about why people become pimps, how pimps control the prostitutes who work for them and how they run their businesses. One thing we don’t have in debates about prostitution policy is reliable data. Whether you favor criminalization or legalization, the information vacuum hurts everyone. The study attempts to quantify the underground sex trade in multiple locations. It’s a very ambitious undertaking and any attempt to put numbers in a phenomenon like this is bound to be controversial. There are all kinds of methodological and practical barriers to understanding this hidden world. It’s a fascinating intellectual challenge. In service of a major public policy debate. With that, I’d like to welcome Meredith back to the program. What questions were you trying to answer with this study? 

We were looking at the size of the unlawful commercial sex economy particularly, and how they compared to other illicit markets. We focus on drugs and weapons and how these economies have changed over time. To what extent to the underground versus sex, drug and weapons economies are interconnected in eight of the eight cities we focused on. How did the ties between traffickers within the underground force of sex economy impact the transportation of victims? And lastly, what are the network characteristics of the traffickers that operate within the underground commercial sex economy? 

And how did you define underground commercial sex work for the purpose of the study? 

We tried to be as broad as we could. We’re also keeping within certain boundaries and limitations so that we could actually do the work. So we looked at the underground commercial sex economy as sex trafficking and anything that falls underneath that umbrella. Pimping, pandering, compelling prostitution, prostitution and child pornography. Although we learned early on in the study that child pornography doesn’t really have a commercial component to it here in the United States. So that wasn’t that ultimately factored, factored into the estimates that we produced. 

So that would include everything from escort agency used to street prostitution to say happy ending massage parlors and that kind of thing. 

Yes. We looked at it, too. Anything underground, which is where a sex act is basically performed. So the above ground commercial sex economy would be strip clubs, adult pornography. Those are both legal somewhere where a massage parlor where a happy ending is given would be considered something underneath in the underground course of sex economy. Considering it is against the law. 

And what was your budget with four hundred ninety nine thousand thirty six dollars and what was the rule? 

The Justice Department in the study, they were our funder. 

They put out a request for proposals in 2010 looking for people to submit proposals to estimate the size of the home of Commerson ex economy. 

So the first year of the study, this is a three year study. We went and spoke with law enforcement in each of the cities to not only get a sense of what the market looked like and how that market is changed over time, but also to talk to speak with them about the individuals they may have arrested during the time that they were part of law enforcement. We would see some case files and collected some names that way. We also did a thorough Internet search, particularly focusing on those eight cities, too, because oftentimes U.S. attorneys offices and the media will announce, you know, cases of individuals who’ve committed crimes, particularly around sex trafficking and and the man. So we collected names that way. 

And then we also got names from a LexisNexis database called Court Link, where we look to court documents based on charges. So over the course of a year or so, we created this what became a fairly large database of individuals who’ve been convicted of these crimes. And then the next step after that was to get approval from the Bureau of Prisons, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and then each individual Department of Corrections for the states that we that we focused on. 

And what role did the stakeholders in law enforcement have in terms of referring you to referring you to cases? Did they sort of give you all the cases they had that they select specific ones to steer you towards? 

It depends what they had access to. A lot of the cases were offsite and they were being stored in a warehouse. So they can actually give us cases. They might be able to give us names, but they couldn’t give us any of the files to look through. So it really depended on how each department was set up. Some of them were electronic. So you could focus, you could search them through them electronically. But oftentimes it was just through speaking with them. A lot of these guys kind of were etched into their their brain. And so they were able to easily call up some of the individuals that they thought we might want to speak with. 

They’re kind of like the guys who were top of mind for law enforcement at that particular time. 

So, yeah, I mean it I think that for for many of these cases, there are very specific pieces to them that law enforcement remembered. There were memorable in some cases. So that’s why they were able to kind of recall by memory. 

And then we would do some future searching through the Internet to see if that person was. 

Is there a risk in terms of selecting people that way? But you choose the most memorable ones, the ones the cops think of, the ones that get written up in the paper. 

It’s not just that. I mean, I should say that that wasn’t the only way we obviously collected it. We went through court documents. We went through Internet. We did speak. We went through case files. So, I mean, at the end of the day, for sex trafficking particular, there are very few people across the United States are actually convicted under that crime. So I think I should be clear in that one. It’s memorable. It’s often because there’s so few of those cases when it comes to attempting cases. It really all depends on who is still in prison, because oftentimes those those sentences are a lot lower. So somebody who’s convicted under a trafficking case can get up to 25 years. In some cases. I interview people who are in there for life versus someone who has a pimping or pandering charge could be less than a year. So I think it all depended on at the time when we wanted to go into the prison, who was actually still in there and what was it like actually going in interviewing these guys? 

I mean, in the beginning, I think it was I didn’t really know what to expect then in speaking with law enforcement and other individuals who’ve done. 

Interviews in prison with offenders. There was a sense that, you know, they’re not going to talk to you. There’s no reason why they would talk to you. We can offer them any kind of monetary incentive or anything. They’re just going to want to give you grandiose ideas of what they were like before being incarcerated. So we kind of had that in our back of our head. As you know, it might be difficult to get them to open up to us. But we were actually quite shocked about how candid a lot of these individuals were. Many of them, almost all of them had pled guilty, mainly due to past felony charges. So they actually have never had their side of the story told. So this is kind of an opportunity for them to talk about, you know, what they were doing prior to incarceration. 

Were you able to cross-check and see how well their their self reports correlated with what law enforcement had found out about them in the case of that? 

We were able to review their case files. Yes. But I think one thing that we look for since we’re only really focused on the economy, not actually on the victimization of anybody, which is oftentimes where you get kind of distorted stories, is we couldn’t just walk into a prison and ask somebody, well, how many victims did you have? How did you did you beat your victims and things of that sort? We were very careful in how we worded our questions and made sure that they were worded to focus specifically on the economy and the business side of things. So this way, they didn’t feel that they were immediately on the defensive. So a lot of the responses we got as a result, you know, kind of correlated with what we’d seen in case files and in some of the information that was out on the cases on the Internet. But there were trends that we saw throughout the country regarding prices, recruitment, strategizing, that sort of thing, which helped to legitimize what we were hearing to some degree, some of the pimps reporting income, weekly incomes of 30000 dollars like some of the pimps in Atlanta. 

Does that seem like that? Would you say that that’s representative of a pimp working in Atlanta? 

Well, we interviewed a number of times for the Atlanta. So as far as its representative, it’s hard to tell. This is a first attempt at trying to estimate this and really get a sense of how much people were making. I think Atlanta, compared to the other cities that we we focused on, there’s a lot going on down there. It’s often considered a source transit and destination city. 

So people go through that city to get to places like Miami or even if you’re coming from the Southwest and you’re going straight up to the Northeast, to New York or Washington, D.C., you might think Atlanta, one of your stops. But also, it is a destination city. And there’s a lot of events happening there. It’s a big convention town, lots of conferences. So there is quite a bit of money to be made down there. And they’ve got a very large and well-known prostitution area called Fulton Industrial, where a lot of this activity happens in the open. So I think it’s just very much known as a place to go if you’re interested in purchasing sex. So the idea that somebody could make thirty thousand dollars a week there is it’s not completely impossible. 

Jim Underdown does it matter for the purposes you fed, you know, pimps, rawData into this very complicated statistical model? 

Does it matter in terms of the validity of your model, whether the pimps that you talked to are statistically representative in terms of how much money they’re making compared to the average in Atlanta? The average pimp in Denver? 

Well, I think that was one reason why we chose different types of cities and of the cities to get a regional diversity and often get a sense of what pimps are making in different places. So I think if you’re just looking at Atlanta and you’re seeing this big number, we also have to remember that pimps in these other cities are not making that much money and that it really depends on the city itself and and the draw for that city. But for this particular model, we because this is a new model that hasn’t been tested before and it really is just to kind of get baseline estimates. It didn’t it wasn’t as sensitive. But the idea is that as we get more information regarding prices, we can feed it into this model and make this a more precise number when they’re talking about bringing home 30000 or 20000 or 30000 depending on the city. 

Is that gross or net? That is gross. Did you get any sense of how profitable pimping was for your subjects? 

Well, we did look at operating costs. There is quite a bit of overhead, particularly when you look at drug trafficking, where you’re buying basically the product itself and selling that and re upping here. You’ve got a lot more that you have to to account for as far as overhead and costs. So you’re paying for hotels, you’re paying for rental cars, gas, food. Many cases they’re paying for the women and girls to get their hair and nails done clothing. So you you’re basically having to take care of many other human beings. So there’s. Be a lot more costs associated to it. So as far as profit goes, it all depends on how much money you’re willing to put in those overhead costs. Are you going to be staying at a budget Motel eight? Or are you trying to go more high class and stay at a Marriott or a Hyatt? So it really depended on the ultimate business model of that tempters, how much money they were putting out and how much they were profiting from. 

And in a town like Atlanta, one of the sections near Port is sort of a detailed ecological accounting from the police of all the different kinds of sex work, ranging from 15 dollar transactions in back alleys to girlfriend experience high end escorts who charge thousands of dollars per visit. Did you get any sense in, let’s just say, Atlanta? It was the biggest. How the market broke down in terms of what share of the dollars spent was high end stuff versus street trade versus other stuff. 

No, we were we were unable to break that down. As far as you know, that’s a question that I’ve gotten a couple of times as well. How much of this constitutes sex trafficking vs. independent sex work? And that’s that’s something that hopefully future analysis and other types of analysis could shed some more light on. But we were we already had a huge undertaking ahead of us. And so being able to provide the estimates and then kind of a blueprint of the overall structure of many of these businesses was was all we could be able to provide for this particular proposal. And that’s essentially what we proposed to do as well. 

So when you look at sort of the pool of pimps that you’re interviewed, what percentage of them were sex traffickers versus trafficker versus pimps who pimps people in their own neighborhoods? 

So technically, the reasons why we kind of made that distinguish between pimps and traffickers is essentially the law in which they were convicted under. Many of them have been convicted under a pimping charge, whereas like I said earlier, it’s very difficult. And there are a lot of reasons why people are not being arrested, charged and convicted of trafficking. But technically, if somebody according to federal law, if somebody is their party, is profiting from somebody else, especially particularly through force, fraud or coercion, if it’s an adult, but you don’t have to prove those three elements. If they’re underage, then that person is a trafficker. But the problem is, by law, they’re not technically being convicted under trafficking laws because there’s a lot of complications and issues as to why that happens. We did. We Urban Institute, along with Northeastern University, released a report in 2012 that looked at some of the challenges to investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases. 

So what percentage of the pimps, though, were what you what the average person would think of as human traffickers versus kind of domestic pimps that you might hear about in rocks, in rap songs? 

Well, all of them admitted to some form of force, fraud or coercion, particularly like psychological coercion. Technically, if you look at the federal definition and you applied it to separates person mother, they were convicted under that law or not. They were traffickers. 

And how many of them were taking people from other countries? 

The ones that we interviewed, I believe off the top of my head, there were about four or five foreign born traffickers who were primarily who worked primarily with individuals and recruited into groups from overseas. 

Where did they come from? Central South America, where some of them were, the bulk of them. And then there were a couple from Asia. 

And to my understanding correctly, that you can be guilty of trafficking if you’re using under age prostitutes, even if you don’t take them from somewhere far away, even if they’re from some movement, has nothing to do with actual trafficking. 

You do not need to to show movement. So if I were in a room and I got moved to another room, that’s that’s enough to show movement. But you don’t need to prove that in trafficking. The only elements you need to prove is if you’re an adult is adult. It’s force part of caution. You don’t need to prove any of those elements. If you’re under age, you need to be facilitating essentially somebody in the commercial sex trade. 

And then some of the interviews, a lot of the pimps said that they did not want to deal with underage girls. Did you. Do you believe them? Do you think that that was credible? 

Well, many of them said that they did not. But almost all of them were in prison because they were found with somebody, a juvenile, working for them. So although many of them knew the law and knew that, as one team said, 16 will get you 20. That didn’t really stop them from either knowingly or unknowingly. 

And that actually has nothing. The lost said that it does not matter if you knew or did not know. But many of them tried to to justify what they did by saying, well, I didn’t know. She said she was 18. She said she was 19. She had a fake I.D., that sort of thing. So whether they knew or didn’t know it, technically it won’t hold up in the law. But many of them tried to convince me by saying I had no idea that she was underage. Otherwise I would never have allowed her to work for me. 

What percentage of the pimps said right out that they used violence to control their sex workers? 

Fifteen percent of the pimps that we interviewed had admitted to using physical abuse, which we had noted in the report, that we believe that was possibly an undertone because it’s very hard. Again, you know, the way we had to be very careful in how we we worded our questions and kind of approach them, because if you start accusing them or even asking them if they used physical abuse straight out, they’re going to deny or get very uncomfortable or even might shut down and stop the interview. So there are ways that we ask that. Where was it? Very direct. It was more of an indirect question. Like, how do you discipline your employees and kind of give them the ability if they wanted to disclose, if they did it or not. So only 15 percent disclose this. But it’s possible that that was another question. 

What other means did they report using to quote unquote, discipline their employees? 

The majority of them talked about psychological manipulation and coercion and in some cases, extortion. They’re actually very open to this and use those specific words as well, not only through recruitment. So they would maybe feign a romantic interest, pretend, you know, you’re my girlfriend, I’m your boyfriend. They love you. 

This is something that if you love me back, this is what you will do. They call that a grooming process. So sometimes I could take a couple days and sometimes I could take three months. 

And eventually you you coerce and you kind of play mental games with that girl until she is willing to. Do what you tell her to do. Another way is by providing incentives and material goods. So kind of pitting girls against one another in order to become top earners. So why didn’t benefit would be if you earn the most money this evening, you get to spend the evening with me. That was a big prize for many of these individuals. And in some cases, another way was if you’re already giving out for free, you might as well get paid to do it. So they would kind of look for girls within their neighborhood that maybe would show up to a lot of parties, maybe have sex with many of the boys within the neighborhood, and then approach them as saying, I can help you actually get paid to do this. 

So they they kind of viewed different, very nuanced strategies for recruitment and routine that one of them seemed very fluent in kind of logic of self-help business practices, success, kind of like they’d been reading the same self-help books that, you know, car salesmen. Oh, absolutely. 

I mean, there are a number of them who actually said that they they consulted with self-help books. There was a small percentage who also went to community colleges or to take classes in business so that they could learn how to better strategize and recruit and manage their businesses. So they were quite funny when it came to how do you manage employees, how to maximize profits, how to look for customers? They really did. It wasn’t your typical hustle that you often hear. It is. It was a very well thought out business plan that many of them had. 

So the pimp demographic, which are more popular, they kind of more getting things done. Self-Help book bands, are they more into the kind of seven habits of highly effective people? 

I think it really depended on on the pimp and what their expertize was. 

So I think one really interesting quote that came from of the pimps was, you know, we found that about 25 percent of the pimps that we interviewed were prior drug dealers. And then of that, 18 percent were still dealing drugs at the time, but they were also pimping. But one guy in particular, who was a former drug dealer said that oftentimes when you’re thinking about should I go into what hustle should I take if I’m going into the streets? A drug dealer is very calculative. They’re always thinking of the next steps, very territorial. They really need to strategize very carefully in order to make sure that either they’re for their own safety, but that they are able to unload their product and reopen it in the appropriate time period. Whereas a pimp is relies mainly on their power of persuasion and their mouth, like what can come out of it in order to to essentially recruit other individuals. So that was the primary role of the pimp, was to recruit, manage the money and and in some cases, protection. So if some girl leaves him, he needs to go out immediately and recruit another girl to take her place. So they had to rely on when you if you look at self-help, if they had to really rely on how to pick out vulnerabilities to go, you know, desires and wishes from people by looking at them and then figure out a way to persuade or manipulate them to come work for for that person. 

How many employees would a typical pep in your survey have working for him at any given time? 

So the average was about 45 women. 

But there are some of them had all the way up to the house is maybe 30 something. So, again, there are some individuals who ran more of an escort business type of. Situation where they they kind of marketed themselves as an agency, some them actually got escort licenses. And so, you know that they tended to have a larger employee base, whereas the smaller the pimps, the smaller temple was kind of working for himself and didn’t really have other people working for him other than the women. So he didn’t have drivers. He didn’t have bodyguards. They didn’t have receptionists or people taking the phone calls. They on average, that they can handle between, you know, four or five women at a time before it became too much for them. 

Used to really interesting, complicated model to estimate the size of these underground economies. Can you talk a little bit about how that worked, what the inputs were and what it generated in terms of output? 

So there were this this model, again, is something new that we kind of initially proposed to the National Institute of Justice. We had a couple of barriers along the way through challenges, but we’re able to overcome that. So it kind of resembled will be initially proposed, but with some tweaks. So what we needed to look at since we were proposed to compare the underground commercial sex economy to the underground drugs and weapons economies is we needed data that would represent drugs and weapons. We needed public data. So we had to look at what public official data sets were out there that looked in drugs and weapons. So we wouldn’t be something that you would typically think of when you when you look at would you try and think of the economy and drugs and weapons, for example? And we looked at a data set that measured the number of suicides by guns in cities. And that was used as part of a fraction of what we how we measure the underground commercial. I mean, the underground weapons economy. And the same with drugs. So overdoses by drugs and an emergency room. That was one of many data sets that we looked at. You know, we took a fraction of that and compiled that. 

So the underlying assumption being that the more overdoses you have, the larger they drug market would be or the more suicides by guns you have, the larger all other things being equal. The gun market would be correct. 

So this is how some of these underground markets had been measured in the past. 

But there is there was no official data that looks specifically at. So that’s why we had to compile our own data set by going in and speaking with traffic or attempts and then speaking with sex workers as well, was to create our own data set in that way. And then we the last piece that we needed was the size of what? How much are the legal cash economy is for in these in these eight cities? So originally we wanted to look at Federal Reserve data, but they denied our request. So then we had to look to find other means to be able to measure that which we did. 

So you’re looking at just how much cash money is circulating in metro Atlanta on any given day? Kind of correct. And how did you get from the relative data of. Well, they haven’t. We have a pretty big, relatively speaking, drug market, a pretty big gun market to an absolute number for how many dollars year people are spending on an underground commercial sex. 

So how how do we see that again? 

How did we what how did you go from the relative numbers? So you have these things that don’t have dollar values attached. Like how many emergency room visits there are? How many people say that they’ve tried drugs in the past year? Or how many gun suicides there are? They don’t have dollar figures attached. How do you go from these sort of relative things like that to being able to put a number on how much people are spending on commercial sex? 

So there’s a somewhat complicated formula. And I will say I am not the brains behind the actual estimate itself. We had our lead methodologies. Bilal Khan, his mathematician, worked with an economist Nick Downey. Are the ones who would be really great. I explain this in more detail. I’m a much better at kind of explaining the big picture. But essentially what was happened was we had the the absolute number four cash in circulation and then we. So we took that and then we’d be on the left side of the equation and then equals all these relative pieces. And so they they ran a number of of statistical analysis and then used a similar simulation program to come up with these these actual numbers. 

But I typically when I’m when I when I explain that estimate part, I usually have him do most of explaining. I’m not going to lie. 

OK. And you mentioned that you also interviewed sex workers, but you ended up having interviewing fewer of them, you said in the paper than you expected to. Why did that happen? 

The way we went about trying to find interviews, individuals to interview. So the just that I’ve done in the past have been primarily focused on an individuals engaged in the sex trade. And there’s there’s ways there’s methodology that. Used to get at those individuals, which is very resource and time intensive. And since we weren’t doing a prevalence estimate for this study, we only needed a certain amount of individual interview. The best way pretending, because many of these cities don’t have programs that work directly with sex workers unless it’s a diversion program from the court. So we figured we would go through a court diversion programs. 

That that work with individuals who are arrested on prostitution related charges and interview them that way. And what we found out later on was that not all of these cities have these diversion courts or they just weren’t willing to cooperate with us to be able to access the individuals for us. So we wanted to interview. So we were hoping for a larger number. But in actuality, for the ethnic purposes, it was it was enough for both of us to be able to do the estimate. And we were able to actually do an interesting, I think, and compelling chapter on sex work, particularly looking at how historically over the last several decades, the street commercial sex market has changed over time and how the Internet has kind of changed things in the early 2000s. 

How has the Internet changed sex work? 

We kind of, you know, saw that bifurcating the market in a way. So prior to the advent of the Internet, it was primarily street based or indoor beer through brothels. Word of mouth, that sort of thing. But the Internet really allowed individuals to market themselves in different ways and kind of cast a wider net to find clients. So you’re really weren’t just limited to remaining on up on a street block or inside of a particular brothel. You could go on on the Internet. And so if I were based in Atlanta and the downtown city of Atlanta, I could post that ad and go to one of the other surrounding counties, counties fairly easily. Whereas before you would need to find a stroll to actually work on to be able to do that. Or if I wanted to travel to another state or there was an event that I wanted to go to, I could post an ad prior to arriving there. Drum up some business, have some customers waiting for me. So by the time I got there, you know, I kind of hit the ground running. So it really changed things. And being able to it’s no longer you reduced to spatial limitations. It’s that country is your oyster to some degree. 

Sometimes people talk about the Internet as freeing sex workers from pimps. But you also found that pimps were using the Internet. How would you say it works out on the whole? Do you think that it diminishes or enhances the role of pimps and sex work today? 

It’s hard. It’s hard to say. I mean, I think what needs to happen is this is an extremely complicated economy that people often portray in black and white terms. And there is a large gray area here. 

And it kind of has to be looked at it as a spectrum. So individuals might be initially recruited into the market through a pimp and eventually might leave that pimps and work out on their own and work independently, post themselves, et cetera, kind of learn how to how the market works. Whereas in some cases, some of the sex workers that we interviewed, they initially got in independently. 

And then after being out in the market for a little while, encountered a pimp, was recruited by that pimp, stayed with them for a while and then left. And there were definitely there were reasons why people decided to go with a pimp or leave a pimp. And it didn’t necessarily have to do with. 

Marketing and how you find clients, many times I had to do with protection, having somebody to assist with managing your money and in many cases it was just somebody maybe they romantically interested in person. Show them some love. And it was just kind of a different relationship dynamic that they were searching, searching for. So it didn’t really have to do with the actual market itself. 

How did the sex workers accounts of violence square with the pimps accounts of how much violence was in the prostitute pimp relationship? 

Customers provided a lot of violence, not only just for the independent sex workers, but for those working for a pimp as well. I think where some people say the pimp comes into play, as you can see, if you have one kid, Presti Dial, and supposedly part of what the pimps wrote was to come in and intervene and assist. But the independent sex workers is there’s there’s that you don’t always have somebody who is looking out for you. And so it’s sometimes these clients when one reason why people said they liked working on the Internet is because they thought they could get the client needs a little bit better, get a feel of who that person is, maybe do a little background research if they were able to get their full name, but they didn’t guarantee that that person was not going to be abusive when they and they met them. 

And so did you ask the prostitutes about what? About whether they faced violence from their pimps when they had a pimp? 

Yeah. So there was only a few sex workers that we interviewed who ever worked for him. So there were some bottoms that were currently sitting in prison who were arrested on pimping charges or Manock charges, who, you know, typically would get, you know, involved in the market and more in a victim role many times under age. 

And at that point, there were there seemed to be quite a bit of violence that they experienced and then they kind of worked their way up the ranks and became this right hand person to the pimp, that there definitely was a bit of violence that was happening in other research that I’ve done. 

It really varies as well. So some individuals who have a pimp. There is no abuse there. Again, more psychological manipulation or there are other ways that they stay with that person and it’s not through physical abuse. So I think, again, it all depends. We once we interviewed said that in the beginning, when he first started out, he used a lot of physical abuse. But as he learned and that was in the market for a longer and longer period of time, he learned that it’s better to control somebody psychologically. And at the minute, you had to put your hands on them. You kind of no longer. There were no no use to you because you weren’t able to kind of control them through their their mind. So they really do rely a lot on that, as opposed to physical abuse, especially kids, can you do use as a temp? Physical abuse, you’re, quote, ruining your merchandise. And so if somebody goes out, there is all the not the likelihood is that a client’s not going to want to purchase something from them. 

Just stepping back and taking a big picture look at what implications would you say that this study has for policy? 

I think that prior to the literature that’s out there. Give us a. I think it gives a lot of information, again, around systems how how they get involved. In some cases, why they get involved kind of intervention, how police and service providers can intervene. 

But this is the first time that we have a full picture, a pretty full picture of how pimps and traffickers and other actors within the underground force of sex economy get involved. And I think for that, it’s really kind of gives a good idea for prevention efforts and what is needed to prevent anybody, victim or offender, from entering this market. And, you know, a lot of it has to do with having more job opportunities available in some of these neighborhoods. You know, education system. So a lot of what you hear with the grounds to poverty in disadvantaged neighborhoods kind of is what is at the root of a lot of this. But that’s also building awareness within, you know, younger populations through prevention efforts, kind of getting them to understand what is trafficking, what are, you know, what can what are the repercussions of entering the sex market and things of that sort. So I think there’s a lot around prevention that still can be done and very little is being done now. And then as far as intervention, whether it be through law enforcement service provision, I think the fact is there’s very few services. Many times you get there under-resourced out there for for victims of trafficking or individual who’d like to just get out of the underground versus sex market, whether they have a trafficker or a pimp or not. And so having a viable job opportunity is having, you know, shelter. Food support system. Those things are really important and also mental health services, which are particularly lacking around this just because we’re still trying to wrap our heads around what is the best mental health interventions that could be used, that individuals have been trafficked, and that as far as law enforcement responds. 

You know, something that we definitely do not condone in the report is and what’s continues to happen, which is really, you know, a problem that needs to be addressed, is the addressing of those individuals who are providing and engaging in the actual effects work, whether they are independent sex workers are being trafficked. They’re still being criminalized, which is not the way forward. And there there needs to be a way to focus on those who are trafficking individuals, you know, through the criminal justice process, particularly around organized crime. So, you know, we looked at the teno brothels, Asian erotic massage parlors, things of that sort. But one of the reasons why we didn’t do so many interviews in prison with those individuals is because they’re not being arrested. They’re not being convicted. And so they’re not in prison because law enforcement said it’s a struggle, mainly because of resources. And they’re just they’re larger and harder to dismantle. And so they’re not they’re not actually doing a very good job at kind of getting at those individuals behind these larger organized crime enterprises. 

Thank you so much. Fascinating study. I really appreciate you coming on the show to talk about it. No problem. Thank you. This has been a point of inquiry. You can follow us on Twitter at point of inquiry. Tune in next week. 

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The NationMs. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.