9 Things You Should Know About Pimps and Sex Traffickers

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Editors’ note: 

This article is one of many informative articles in Joe Carter’s “9 Things You Should Know” series.

A landmark government study commissioned by the Justice Department was recently released by the Urban Institute. Although the study covers a wide variety of topics related to the underground commercial sex economy, it provides some of the most revealing data on those who coerce women and children into prostitution. Here are nine things from the study you should know about pimps and sex traffickers.

1. A pimp is an individual who controls the actions and lives off the proceeds of one or more women who work the streets. Generally, pimping becomes trafficking when “the threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim” is present. (For the purposes of this article, the term “pimp” will be used for both pimps and sex traffickers.)

2. Nearly one-third of the pimps interviewed said they entered the underground commercial sex economy because they grew up around it. Exposure to sex work as children made the trade seem like a normal, achievable means to earn a living. Studies have suggested that individuals that grew up in neighborhoods where prostitution was prevalent or have family members engaged in sex work sometimes enter the field. Other research has found that individuals working in other illegal underground economies, such as drug dealing, sometimes move into the facilitation of underground sex markets

3. Recruitment is the most important component of any pimp’s business model. Pimps recruited individuals of all ages, genders, and races. However, multiple pimps noted that white women are more profitable in the sex market and easier to manage. Pimps also reported that law enforcement has placed a heightened emphasis on arresting and prosecuting individuals who pimp underage women. As a result, many offenders avoided minors, in part due to fears of arrest and prosecution

4. Pimps recruited sex workers in different spaces, such as scouting at transportation hubs, mass transit stations, nightclubs, strip bars, malls, high schools, college campuses, local neighborhoods, as well as through online and social media channels. Pimp-managed employees played a critical role in recruiting individuals to engage in prostitution. Employees approached individuals, encouraged friends to engage in prostitution under the pimp, bolstered the pimp’s reputation, and explained the business to recruited individuals.

5. Pimps appeal to individuals’ emotional dependencies and economic needs through “finesse pimping.” The study found that different forms of coercion and fraud, sometimes independent or even free of physical violence, are used by pimps to recruit and control employees. These forms of coercion and fraud included feigning romantic interest, emphasizing mutual dependency between pimp and employee, discouraging women from “having sex for free,” promising material comforts, and establishing a reputation as a “good” pimp.

6. The majority of pimps reported imposing rules on employees. Rules related to drugs and alcohol are common. Many pimps said that employees using hard drugs are typically unreliable and a danger to themselves. Others prefer that their employees not smoke marijuana or drink, but still tolerate it. About one in five pimps said they impose restrictions on their employees about what clients they can solicit, often banning black men and younger men. Pimps are commonly concerned that black men and younger men would engage in drug use, be rough, commit robbery, leave without paying, or are pimps scouting for new employees.

7. Pimps responded to rule violations in multiple ways, including physical violence, isolation, and confiscating possessions. Even in the absence of clearly articulated rules, pimps used discipline to exert control over employees and encourage dependency. Those that admitted to researchers that they use violence indicated that physical violence was always used in conjunction with other forms of coercion. Coercion through psychological and emotional abuse was cited by respondents as the most common form of punishment.

8. In terms of revenue, about 18 percent said they impose a dollar figure quota that employees would have to earn each day. These figures range from $400 to $1,000, depending on the day of the week. Other pimps say that, instead of requiring quotas, they incentivize performance by collecting and depositing cash at the end of every night so that the group starts each day without money. If the employees want to ensure food, lodging, and other necessities, they would have to go out and earn more money, pimps reasoned.

9. Nearly 21 percent of the pimps interviewed said their greatest fear was being arrested and prosecuted. About 18 percent said their greatest fear was for their personal safety, while only 6 percent cited employee safety as their chief concern. Though the majority of respondents stated that arrest is the foremost “risk” of pimping, they also routinely reported that they believed pimping was less risky than other crimes.

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