The Urban Institute’s study investigated the scale of the underground commercial sex economy (UCSE) in eight major US cities — Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, and Washington, DC. Across cities, the UCSE’s worth was estimated between $39.9 and $290 million in 2007, but decreased since 2003 in all but two cities. In the study, interviews with pimps, traffickers, sex workers, child pornographers, and law enforcement revealed the dynamics central to the underground commercial sex trade.
Here are some of the key findings regarding those who manage the sex economy:
(1) Pimps and traffickers interviewed for the study took home between $5,000 and $32,833 a week.
(2) Pimps manipulate women into sex work. From discouraging “having sex for free” to feigning romantic interest, pimps used a variety of tactics to recruit and retain employees.
(3) Women, family, and friends facilitate entry into sex work. Some pimps and sex workers had family members or friends who exposed them to the sex trade at a young age, normalizing their decision to participate.
(4) Unexpected parties benefit from the commercial sex economy. Pimps, brothels, and escort services often employed drivers, secretaries, nannies, and other non-sex workers to keep operations running smoothly. Hotel managers and law enforcement agents sometimes helped offenders evade prosecution in exchange for money or services.
(5) The Internet is changing the limitations of the trade. Prostitution is decreasing on the street, but thriving online. Pimps and sex workers advertise on social media and sites like Craigslist.com and Backpage.com to attract customers and new employees, and to gauge business opportunities in other cities.
(6) Child pornography is escalating. Online child pornography communities frequently trade content for free and reinforce behavior.
(7) The underground sex economy is perceived as low risk. Pimps, traffickers, and child pornography offenders believed that their crimes were low-risk despite some fears of prosecution.
This study reminds us that markets alone do not produce a virtuous society. While the market is there to facilitate the meeting of demands it does not mean that all demands are equally moral. For this reason, the value of culture is a core principle at the Acton Institute:
Priority of Culture – Liberty flourishes in a society supported by a moral culture that embraces the truth about the transcendent origin and destiny of the human person. This moral culture leads to harmony and to the proper ordering of society. While the various institutions within the political, economic, and other spheres are important, the family is the primary inculcator of the moral culture in a society.
Ultimately, the sex economy will die in the US and around the world when moral virtue excels in individuals, families, and in society at large. As long as progressives reject the role of morals and the church in the public square, the sex economy in the US is only going to get worse.