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The Saddest Number in This New Study of the Dallas Sex Trade

Doesn't seem so hard out there for a pimp in Atlanta.  (graphic from the Urban Institute)
Doesn’t seem so hard out there for a pimp in Atlanta. (graphic from the Urban Institute)
In some of Dallas’ poorer neighborhoods, there are drug-addicted human beings willing to perform sexual acts in exchange for as little as $5 or $10.

That is the most heartbreaking of all the statistics and anecdotes to be found in the study released today by the Urban Institute. The Washington, D.C.-based policy research group examined the underground sex economy in seven American cities, including Dallas. They interviewed law enforcement officials, pimps, child pornographers, and sex workers familiar with the illegal goings-on in sketchy street corners, massage parlors, brothels, topless bars, and high-end escort services to suss out just how big an economic footprint the sex trade makes. (Their estimates are for 2003 and 2007.)

Dallas, with an estimated $98.8 million spent in 2007, features only the fifth-largest underground sex economy of the seven cities studied. That’s slightly larger than San Diego ($96.6 million) and much larger than Denver ($39.9 million), but it’s dwarfed by the $290 million spent in Atlanta or the $235 million in Miami. Seattle and DC were the others included.

That $5-$10 figure is the lowest dollar amount quoted for a sexual service among any of the cities. These are women and men who are turning tricks purely to reinvest the money back into drugs. By contrast, pimp-controlled sex workers are expected to bring in substantially more each day:

Interviewer: White girls have to make more. And the weekend quota is higher?

Respondent 1: I think that it was just every day. You’ll see some of them say $700 but on the weekends I have to make $1,000 or $1,500 or something really crazy. But I think for the majority $1,000 a day, and you didn’t come home until you had it. What we witnessed … if they didn’t come back with it they were going to get beat. And they’ve seen the others get beat or they been beat themselves so they’re going to do whatever they can to make sure that they come home with $1,000.

The study notes a number of other unique features of the sex business in Dallas:

The UCSE in Dallas is mainly composed of pimp-controlled online and street-based sex trafficking and voluntary prostitution, with an increasing number of erotic massage parlors (see table 4.2). A practice relatively unique to Dallas is that non-Asian pimps run some massage parlors and send some of their women and girls to work in massage parlors owned and operated by Asians. Although there have been some cases involving Latino brothels, they are not thought to be as prevalent as in comparison to other cities in Texas (e.g., Houston). Cases of sex trafficking and prostitution have also been found behind fronts for legal commercial sexualized services such as topless bars. The operators in each of these distinct venues will often network with others operating similar businesses in order to maximize profits and keep the “merchandise” fresh and new.

Many of the women involved in this trade are doing so involuntary, forced to work to pay off some debt they owe. Law enforcement’s concern with prostitution is primarily focused on addressing these sorts of cases of sex trafficking or cases in which robbery or drugs are also involved (which is often). So, according to the study, customers of high-end services (which charge around $500 and hour or $4,500 for a night) apparently don’t have much to worry about from the cops. Because those expensive escorts are rarely victims of sex trafficking or involved in other criminal activity, and because their rings are more difficult to infiltrate, law enforcement in Dallas generally lets them be.

Now I need to go and have a good cry.

5 comments on “The Saddest Number in This New Study of the Dallas Sex Trade

  1. That is sad to realize that the women who need it the most and have the least interest in doing it are the ones who make the least and subjected to beatings and quotas. But the reality is, moral-based laws around drug use and prostitution are the root causes of these situations. Legalize them and those who WANT to be in the industry will be there and those who have an addiction they have to feed can do so legally without threat of being involved in this kind of thing. These kind of laws serve no purpose but to represent one person’s/group’s moral beliefs (usually religious-based) as an example of how people SHOULD be rather than how they actually are.

  2. Equally sad is how much this sounds like the political process local, state and federal.

  3. Jeff Newman, these women are addicted because their pimps give the drugs to control them. They are victims and should be protected. The answer is not legalizing prostitution or drugs. The answer is to go after the pimps and the money they are making off these victims!

  4. Jeff Newman, these women are addicted because their pimps give them drugs to control them. They are victims and should be protected. The answer is not legalizing prostitution or drugs. The answer is going after the pimps and the money they are making off these girls, and most of them are girls, not women.

  5. Jeff Newman, spoken like someone who has absolutely no idea what human trafficking is, how it works or the social mechanisms that make it a reality. The demand for sex for money draws the traffickers who manipulate the women/children who are brought into the country, usually illegally or sometimes legally with the promise of some kind of work not related to what they end up doing. As long as there is a demand for this sort of thing there will be a supply.

    Many of the people in the “industry” in the first place are not there because they want to be, but because they have no alternative and/or have been coerced/manipulated into it. Legalizing it wont do anything to curb the influx of trafficked sex workers.

    Making something like prostitution legal is quite literally just a way to make it legal for people to sell themselves. Who is it that generally ends up doing that? The poor and disadvantaged. So you want to legalize a mechanism for exploiting the poor? Dont we have legal means for that already?