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Pimps Are Just Middle Managers: Lessons From the Underground Sex Economy

The Urban Institute’s sex industry study is one of the most comprehensive surveys ever done of the business of the commercial sex business, including massage parlors, brothels, escort services, and old-fashioned prostitution. Researcher Meredith Dank and a group of colleagues focused on eight U.S. cities—Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, Kansas City, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, and Washington—and conducted interviews with pimps, prostitutes (focusing on females, it would seem), and pornographers in an attempt to untangle one of the oldest underground economies in existence. The results are fascinating.

Atlanta and Miami have the largest underground sex economies of the cities studied, estimated as of 2007 at $290 million and $235 million, respectively. As in most above-ground businesses, the bosses tend to be men. Researchers interviewed 73 pimps who described finding their female employees at high schools, on college campuses, and at malls, nightclubs, and strip bars, as well as through social media. The pimps tend to seek out white women—the younger the better, although not so young that they get into legal trouble for trafficking in minors.