How the Sex Trafficking Industry Works


American sex trafficking has become an enormously lucrative industry, according to a new Urban Institute study that estimates the scope of the underground sex economy.

Sex trafficking and prostitution in just eight cities studied for the report are estimated to have brought in between $39.9 million and $290 million in 2007.

Researchers interviewed 261 stakeholders and convicted offenders for the study, including local and federal law enforcement officers, prosecutors, pimps, sex traffickers, sex workers and child pornographers. The study estimates the size of the commercial sex economy in Kansas City, Seattle, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, Denver, San Diego and Washington, D.C.

Stakeholders and offenders were interviewed about the structure of the underground sex economy, the profits generated, the formation and structure of networks and how those factors have changed through time.

The interviews reveal how sex economy participants see themselves. Most claimed to have never forced women into prostitution and few encourage the use of the word “pimp,” but many respondents also acknowledged coercing sex workers.

“Respondents reported multiple forms of coercion, fraud, and manipulation, including feigning romantic interest, emphasizing mutual dependency between pimp and employee, discouraging women from “having sex for free,” promises of material comforts, and establishing a reputation as a “good” pimp,” researchers wrote.

Pimps and traffickers interviewed for the study reported weekly earnings between $5,000 and $32,833.

Read the full study HERE.

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