The US Justice Department has sponsored a landmark study of the current size and structure of the illicit sex market in the United States. The final report, released in March, analyzed the business side of the trade in eight major cities, including Miami, Dallas, Denver, Washington, DC, and Atlanta. To generate data on pricing, entry points, and business structures, researchers interviewed more than 250 individuals in law enforcement, the justice system, and the sex trade.
Researchers found the size and scope of the sex market varied widely, with the total value of the underground sex economy ranging from $39.9 million to $290 million depending on the city. Unlike other criminal activities such as the drug trade, the sex industry was comprised mostly of small operations. Additionally, much of the industry’s business is now advertised and organized online, expanding the boundaries of the trade and the reach of traffickers. “Pimps” and traffickers also admitted to using psychological manipulation and sometimes violence, to coerce women into the trade and keep them there. Participation in the illicit commercial sex trade was perceived as “low-risk.”
The study’s authors say the report should increase understanding of the mechanics of the sex trade and allow law enforcement to more effectively help victims and disrupt human trafficking networks. This would include targeting awareness campaigns to deter victimization and entry into the sex trade and rigorously enforcing trafficking laws to combat “low-risk” perceptions of the crime. The researchers stressed that far more data is needed to develop a complete picture of sex trafficking in the US.
Compiled from: Dank, Meredith, et al., Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities, Urban Institute (March 12, 2014); Lowrey, Annie, In-Depth Report Details Economics of Sex Trade, New York Times (March 12, 2014)