In some cities, the underground commercial sex economy accounts for as much as $300 million a year.
That’s according to a first-of-its-kind study, funded by the Justice Department and conducted by the Urban Institute, that provides estimates on the size of the underground sex economy.
The study focused on eight cities in 2003 and 2007, chosen to show regional diversity and also because of available data, official cooperation, and the availability of a sufficient number of convicted pimps and sex traffickers. In major cities such as Miami, the underground sex economy was estimated as $302 million in 2003; in Atlanta, it was $290 million in 2007. Washington’s underground sex economy accounted for $100 million in 2007.
“We’re not trying to make a statement that these cities need to worry because they are a hub for this,” lead researcher Meredith Dank said. “Part of it is regional diversity in saying this is happening everywhere; there is a lot of money being made no matter what city you go in.”
The figures provide a snapshot of the size of the underground sex economy, which grew from 2003 to 2007 in some cities. The figures also show that in many of the cities studied, the underground sex economy exceeds the drug and weapons economies. For instance, the underground drug trade in Miami was estimated at nearly $94 million in 2003, when the sex economy was $302 million.
Dank spent three years conducting extensive field research and interviews with former pimps, sex traffickers, sex workers, and law-enforcement officials. While much research and focus on sex trafficking has focused on victims and sex workers, this study provides insight into how pimps and traffickers operate.
“Having done research in this field for many years now, it answers a lot of stuff that we only knew anecdotally, but it also debunks some of the myths that get talked about within media and advocacy work,” Dank said.
One of those myths? That physical coercion is the main tool pimps use — only 15 percent of those interviewed admitted to being physical with sex workers. Dank says that while many likely would not admit to using physical force, psychological coercion plays a huge role in the underground sex economy.
Another misconception is that all sex workers are forced to use drugs. “What we found is that at least a quarter of the individuals we interviewed actually had a strict rule not to use drugs, because it ‘ruined the merchandise,’ ” she said. “There certainly are cases where there is forced drug use and a lot of drug use, but we need to start looking at all factors that come into play when you’re looking at the underground sex economy, particularly when it comes to sex trafficking, because it’s the only real way that you’re going to address it the best.”
Pimps reported believing that pimping was less risky than other forms of crime, despite acknowledging getting arrested as the biggest risk they faced.
The study also examined the use of child pornography, which has grown rapidly online and is increasingly depicting more graphic content involving very young children and even babies. Many of those interviewed who had been charged with distributing and possession (“noncontact” offenses), tended to believe their crimes were victimless because they weren’t involved with producing new images.
Researchers suggest a litany of actions based on the findings in the nearly 400-page report, ranging from including coercion among the legal definitions of sex trafficking, to mandating that trafficking-hotline numbers be included on websites such as Craigslist and Backpage.com.
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Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”