Pimping On Craigslist
Among the numerous trends within the underground sex economy, Urban Institute found that the industry’s biggest source of growth has been online. Pimps and traffickers use the Internet as opposed to putting their employees on the street for a number of reasons, including personal and employee safety.
“Pimps and sex workers advertise on social media and sites like Craigslist.org and Backpage.com to attract customers and new employees, and to gauge business opportunities in other cities,” the report found. The study also notes that while “prostitution is decreasing in the street,” it is thriving online.
Researchers say that the shift toward online platforms has changed not just the way pimps run their businesses, but also the way customers interact with and select their dates. Nowadays, the study found, often times a prostitute “doesn’t need to take one step on the street; the business comes directly to her.” The sex worker simply gives her john a time and hotel room number via an instant messaging conversation, often using coded language to avoid detection by law enforcement.
For pimps, personal safety is a huge concern, and a big part of the motivation behind moving their businesses online. “Over the years, right, the Internet became an easier way to get money without having to take so many chances as far as injury, or assholes outside,” said one pimp, in an interview with researchers. According to the study, 49 percent of pimps reported using Internet ads to attract business. Further, because online ads attract the attention of a different demographic than street walkers potentially would, the market for sex workers has largely shifted toward higher-paying clientele, another boon for pimps.
But while online appointments might make things safer than they were, sex workers still face violence. The report found that 58 percent of sex workers had reported facing violence, and 36 percent said they’d had abusive or violent clients in the past. One sex worker interviewed by researchers at the institute claimed she’d been raped “40 or 50 times,” and that she has “stab wounds all over” from former clients.
The underground sex economy’s increasing online presence is beneficial for law enforcement in some ways, in that it makes it easier to track a pimp’s activities, but, at the same time, the shift toward online advertisements and appointment-making is also a detriment because it makes accessing and promoting the industry’s services far easier for the offenders, too; for law enforcement, it’s like an ongoing game of whack-a-mole.