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Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2014
350 pages
This study examined the size and structure of the underground commercial sex economy (UCSE) in eight major U.S. cities.
The study estimates that the UCSE in the eight cities studied ranged from $39.9 to $290 million in 2007. In five of the cities, the size of the UCSE decreased between 2003 and 2007. There does not appear to be any connection between weapons trafficking and the UCSE in any of the eight cities, the overlap with drug trafficking varied by UCSE venue. In five of the study sites, gang involvement in sex trafficking and prostitution seems to be increasing. Pimps travel in circuits and use social networks to facilitate the transportation of employees to various locations for work. Pimps and sex workers both cited socioeconomic conditions as prominent in their becoming involved in the sex industry. Pimps use various forms of coercion and fraud in recruiting, managing, and retaining control over employees. The widespread availability of the Internet has expanded the reach of the sex market for both recruitment and advertisement. Across sites, criminal justice stakeholders believed that the UCSE was much larger than they were able to investigate due to resource constraints, lack of political will, or minimal public awareness of the prevalence of UCSE crimes. Child pornography was found to be an escalating problem. For offenders (production, distribution, and possession), the prevalence of online child pornography reinforces and normalizes child pornography offenses. Due to resource limitations, the least technologically sophisticated offenders are most likely to be detected. Based on study findings, 14 policy and practice implications are drawn. The study used a multi-method approach that involved both qualitative and quantitative data. The eight cities are San Diego, Seattle, Dallas, Denver, Washington, DC, Kansas City, Atlanta, and Miami. Extensive tables, 155 references, and appended study material and instruments

Date Published: March 1, 2014