Prostitution in America: Not just ‘hustle and flow’

A sweeping survey on the world’s oldest profession was released today and it shows that prostitution in America, fueled by the Internet, is becoming a major organized business worth nearly a billion dollars annually.

The Urban Institute, through funding from the Department of Justice, took a detailed look at prostitution in eight states. The findings show Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, and Washington, DC shows that the sex trade touches all demographics with operations with women, families and friends facilitating entry into sex work.

The motivation is an ever-growing profit margin with pimps and traffickers interviewed for the study saying they took home between $5,000 to $34,000 a week.

The underground economy of the sex trade tracked to unforeseen benefits to third parties not directly linked to the act of sex itself. The study showed that non-sex workers such as drivers, secretaries and nannies, for example, are hired to keep operations run smoothly. The study cites on such instances, hotel managers and law enforcement agents sometimes helped offenders evade prosecution in exchange for money or services.

Law enforcement in one city reported that erotic Asian massage parlors would purchase the names of licensed acupuncturists to fake legitimacy. Even feuding gang members occasionally joined forces in the sex trade, prioritizing profit over turf wars, according to the report.

But perhaps what has helped the illegal sex trade evolve most dramatically is the Internet. The report says prostitution is decreasing on the street, but thriving online. Advertisements on social media and sites like Craigslist.com and Backpage.com entice potential workers and customers. Those determined to be in the business, but who find their local resources drying up, often go online to solicit business or take advantage of opportunities in other cities.

The report says the Internet works both ways, however. An online presence makes it both easier for law enforcement to track activity in the underground sex economy and for an offender to promote and provide access to the trade. And it is the increasing vigilance of law enforcement online that is has spotted an even more disturbing trend. According to the report, child pornography is escalating.

The free exchange of online child porn communities has been cited as reinforcing the behavior of pedophiles who believe their passive participation is a “victimless crime.” The report says sex offenders believed that their crimes were low risk even in the face of potential prosecution. Those who got caught for child pornography generally had low technological know-how, and multiple pimp offenders expressed that “no one actually gets locked up for pimping,” despite their own incarcerations.

Wholesale changes in policy reportedly could help curb the growing and ever-more-sophisticated sex trade. The steps suggested are:

  • Increase awareness among school officials and the general public about the realities of sex trafficking to deter victimization and entry.
  • Consistently enforce the laws for offenders to diminish low-risk perception.
  • Impose more fines for ad host websites.
  • Cross-train drug, sex, and weapons trade investigators to better understand circuits and overlaps.
  • Continue using federal and local partnerships to disrupt travel circuits and identify pimps.
  • Offer law enforcement training for both victim and offender interview techniques, including identifying signs of psychological manipulation.

For details on this report go to:  http://datatools.urban.org/features/theHustle/index.html

Also: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/03/12/220903/sex-trade-in-eight-cities-worth.html