How Much Is the Sex Trafficking Industry Worth in Your City?

We already know that the sex trafficking is thriving in the U.S. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated last year that approximately 100,000 children in the United States are forced into sex trafficking every year. Now we know just how much it is thriving. A study by the Urban Institute, released this week, reveals that the underground sex trade is worth nearly one billion dollars annually in eight cities.

The federally funded report seeks to understand the size and structure of the sex trade through a close look at eight metro areas: San Diego, Seattle-Tacoma, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Kansas City, Atlanta, Miami and Washington.

Over $290 Million in Atlanta

Estimates of the money made in the illicit sex trade in 2007 varied from just under $40 million in Denver to over $290 million in Atlanta.

Some surprising and depressing findings from the report:

* Pimps and traffickers interviewed for the study took home between $5,000 and $32,833 a week.

* In several cities, including Atlanta, there are “Latino brothels” where girls from Mexico work after being promised a “better life” by pimps.

* Physical violence against sex trade employees is probably underreported.

* Pimps, brothels and escort services often employ drivers, secretaries, nannies and other non-sex workers to keep operations running smoothly. Offenders sometimes escape prosecution by paying of hotel managers and even law enforcement agents.

* 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 and

* Child pornography is escalating. Explicit content of younger victims is becoming increasingly available and graphic. Online child pornography communities frequently trade content for free and reinforce behavior.

* 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.

A Family Business

Onepimp in the study is quoted as saying: “My mother was a hustler. At an early age, she would pick me up and say, ‘This is my pimp here.’”

A 45-year-old African-American male explained the impact of conversations with his aunt at a young age:

“At age five and six and seven, I seen it because my auntie was a ho. I’ve seen men come and go all the time, didn’t know. One night, I saw and asked. She said, ‘The clothes on your back, the apartment, this is how I pay the rent.’ I had nothing but love for my auntie, that’s what made me fall in love with a working woman. Then my sister and my momma did it. It’s been in the family. My uncle and father were pimps.”

Meredith Dank, the lead researcher on the study, was especially struck by the business aspect of the illicit sex trade: “We often think about the commercial sex economy as a hustle, where there’s no real thought or planning that’s involved. But we found . . . the opposite _ that some pimps and traffickers actually had a business model they followed.”

“Some of the findings might ruffle some feathers in the end,” Dank said during an interview at the McClatchy Washington Bureau. “One finding is that in some cases women are doing the recruiting of the pimps. Most people want to say all women are the victims and all men are the perpetrators. If we are really going to address this issue, I think it is really important to know the external factors and environmental factors that are pushing people into it.”

How to Combat Trafficking and Illicit Prostitution

Shedding light on the workings of the illicit sex trade is vital to helping its victims, and this report is a welcome step in that direction.

Let’s hope that the Justice Department, who funded the study, will now work to combat trafficking and illicit prostitution. Here are the steps that the report proposes:

Cross-train drug, sex and weapons trade investigators to better understand circuits and overlaps.
Continue using federal and local partnerships to disrupt travel circuits and identify pimps.
Offer law enforcement trainings for both victim and offender interview techniques, including identifying signs of psychological manipulation.
Increase awareness among school officials and the general public about the realities of sex trafficking to deter victimization and entry.
Consistently enforce the laws for offenders to diminish low-risk perception.
Impose more fines for ad host websites.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Vasu M.
.3 years ago

I've never had to pay for sex, but I've had friends who have paid for sex. A friend of mine "lost it" at a legal brothel in Nevada, shortly before turning 29. Another friend rented a beach house and a couple of girls to go with it, while vacationing in the Philippines.

I had sex with a young woman who was later forced to support herself by working as a call girl for an escort service. So I'm not in a position to condemn prostitution, which, depending on the circumstances, is arguably victimless.

Hey, Heidi Fleiss was pretty good at it!

Sydney Biddle Barrows is an American businesswoman who was introduced to the world of high-class prostitution and started her own escort service, Cachet, in New York City from 1979 to 1984.

Cachet offered superior service for its time, focusing on delivering a classy and elegant experience to the wealthy and powerful who either visited or lived in New York City. Clients included industrialists, high-powered business executives and lawyers, foreign diplomats, Arabian oil sheiks, priests and rabbis.

Hugh Blair
Hugh Blair3 years ago

Sharyn W I understand your hate of trafficking and I hate it as well in all of its forms. However don't conflate trafficking with adult consensual prostitution. There are thousands of men and women who enter the business of sex work intentionally and are not trafficked, have pimps or are abused. They are fighting for their right to pursue their chosen profession. They are holding protests taking legal action and public education.
One reason trafficking thrives is that sex work is illegal and forced underground. This allows criminals to dominate.
As has been shown in Europe the anti "john" laws you advocate end up in greater violence and risk for the men and women. Like alcohol, gambling and now marijuana legalization and bringing the so called vice into the light will take it out of the hands of the criminals who take advantage of the weak.
Watch the move American Courtesans on Amazon, or Hulu and learn more about the people who are in sex work because they want to be.

sharyn w.
sharyn w3 years ago

This is who the NSA and Homeland Security should be spying on /listening to and tracking on the web and cell phones. Then locate, arrest, prosecute and convict them on domestic and international terrorism( they cross the border into Canada; Bring them in across the southern borders, and ship them in from Asia(China, India etc) Eastern Europe, Russia etc.. Let's not forget the fertile abundant supply in the USA and it should be the first priority of saving our citizens from this new slavery and bondage. NOW there is no time to waste. Enough time has been wasted already in the quality of life, human dignity and life itself. What happens to these victims of sex traffickers after they're no longer money makers and/or useful for the sex industry? Does anyone know for sure?

sharyn w.
sharyn w3 years ago

One of the things to do is start educating future 'johns' about the impact this has on girls women and other young males/boys. Let them know this could happen to their sisters, future/present daughter/sons, cousins, girls they like and/or related too. Then hand out prison time with no early release date, no warnings, no probation, no parole without any exceptions no matter who they are, what position they hold, how much money they have to 'all' customers, sex traffickers and anyone else involved directly and indirectly in the sex trafficking of human beings. Many customers are family men, husbands, fathers, grandfathers, professional, blue collar, religious leaders, politicians, judges, law enforcement, teachers, teens, even female customers and married couples and they should be put into a county jail at the very least,prison and serve time behind bars of a least a full and entire 30days for the first offense. Cut the demand/customers with very harsh punishment and the supply will dry up and diminish.

Donna F.
Donna F3 years ago

human trafficking is one of the worst things in this world. I live in one of the cities mentioned. very, very sad, thinking of those abused.

Mary T.
Mary T3 years ago

thanks for sharing the article...wish sex trafficking would go away, the city of Richmond, CA will post pictures of johns on their Facebook and Twitter pages

Charmaine McDonald

Tomorrow is Human Rights Day, The have's have the right to use and abuse the have not's , sad to say this, but many men are the ones in this world that commit acts of cruelty and abuse to the earth's downtrodden. Nothing has changed on this Planet Earth, instead of love mare hatred is see everywhere. God have mercy on the victims.

Alina Kanaski
Alina Kanaski3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Charlene Rush
Charlene Rush3 years ago

Hey, all you anti-choice people.
Put your money where your mouth is, and help these most unfortunate kids.

Glen Riley
Past Member 3 years ago

Ya or we could just regulate stuff like this and likely deter many of the pervs in society instead of allowing them to bottle up their delusions then act upon them once desired.