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.