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Longstanding policy debates over how prostitution/sex work should be thought about and responded to have been upended in the USA by a growing tendency to conflate the practice with sex trafficking. US law and social policy have converged most fully on this issue in a movement to eradicate what has come to be known as the commercial sexual exploitation of children. One outcome of this movement has been an expanded focus on prosecuting and imprisoning pimps and other legal adults who support or abet juridical minors involved in the sex trade. This paper will show that the simplistic, one-size-fits-all narrative of the child victim and the adult exploiter inherent in this policy does not reflect the realities of street-based sex work in the USA. After 2 years of ethnographic and social network research in two cities, we find that sex market-involved young people participate in a great diversity of market–facilitation relationships, many of which provide the only or the most crucial foundation for their support networks. A social policy based on a one-dimensional construction of the child victim and the adult exploiter not only endangers these crucial relationships but also disappears the real needs of young people involved in the exchange of sex for money.
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Is Child to Adult as Victim is to Criminal?
Social Policy and Street-Based Sex Work in the USA
Anthony Marcus &Robert Riggs &Amber Horning &
Sarah Rivera &Ric Curtis &Efram Thompson
Published online: 20 October 2011
#Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011
Abstract Longstanding policy debates over how prostitu-
tion/sex work should be thought about and responded to
have been upended in the USA by a growing tendency to
conflate the practice with sex trafficking. US law and social
policy have converged most fully on this issue in a
movement to eradicate what has come to be known as the
commercial sexual exploitation of children. One outcome
of this movement has been an expanded focus on
prosecuting and imprisoning pimps and other legal adults
who support or abet juridical minors involved in the sex
trade. This paper will show that the simplistic, one-size-fits-
all narrative of the child victim and the adult exploiter
inherent in this policy does not reflect the realities of street-
based sex work in the USA. After 2 years of ethnographic
and social network research in two cities, we find that sex
market-involved young people participate in a great
diversity of marketfacilitation relationships, many of
which provide the only or the most crucial foundation for
their support networks. A social policy based on a one-
dimensional construction of the child victim and the adult
exploiter not only endangers these crucial relationships but
also disappears the real needs of young people involved in
the exchange of sex for money.
Keywords Pimps .Commercial sexual exploitation of
children (CSEC) .Trafficking Victims Protection Act
(TVPA) .Prostitution .Child .Adolescent .Sex trafficking .
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act
and the Disappearance of the Teen Prostitute
Longstanding policy debates over how prostitution/sex
work should be thought about and responded to have been
upended in the USA amid a national moral panic over
human trafficking. While prostitution has been and remains
illegal in all US jurisdictions except the state of Nevada,
where it is legal and highly regulated, the practice is
increasingly being conflated with sex trafficking. Passage
of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in
2000 represented a watershed in this process, defining sex
trafficking as the recruitment, harboring, transportation,
provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a
commercial sex act(US Department of State 2000). In
particular, despite a national minimum age for legal work
that is set at 14 and an age of sexual consent that ranges
from 16 to 18, depending on the state, the sex act, and who
is involved in it, the TVPAs novel legal framework has
constructed sex workers under 18 years old as child victims
of trafficking who, a priori, have no agency with which to
decide to engage in the exchange of sex for money. Under a
A. Marcus (*):R. Riggs :A. Horning :S. Rivera :R. Curtis
John Jay College of the City University of New York,
899 Tenth Avenue Room 433T,
New York, NY 10019, USA
R. Riggs
A. Horning
S. Rivera
R. Curtis
A. Marcus :R. Riggs :S. Rivera :R. Curtis :E. Thompson
Social Networks Research Group,
899 Tenth Avenue Room 433T,
New York, NY 10019, USA
Sex Res Soc Policy (2012) 9:153166
DOI 10.1007/s13178-011-0070-1
special definition, the TVPA provides that severe trafficking
in personsmeans sex trafficking in which a commercial sex
act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the
person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years
of age(US Department of State 2000, emphasis added; see
also US Department of State 2005).
Since passage of the TVPA, the conflation of prostitution
and trafficking inherent in the legislation has found its
fullest expression in an increasingly muscular international
movement to eradicate what has come to be known as the
commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) since
the First World Conference against the Sexual Exploitation
of Children in Stockholm in August 1996. However, with
little evidence of trafficking in humans—“childrenor
adults”—in the USA, the US CSEC movement has
focused its attention and its growing resources on children
involved in the exchange of sex for money.
The rise of the CSEC paradigm in the USA has
paralleled and benefited from dramatically increased
funding for anti-human trafficking initiatives and led to
the growth of national and local organizations with a
vested stake in defining adolescents under 19 years old
as children and therefore non-sexual beings incapable of
choice where sex is concerned (see US Department of
State 2000,2005; see also Cizmar et al. 2011,p.4).
Federally funded initiatives like the Polaris Project, the
Georgia Care Connection, and Innocence Lost have joined
not-for-profits like Girls Educational and Mentoring
Service, The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking,
and Standing Against Global Exploitation, law enforcement
officials, and faith-based organizations to form federally
supported task forces across the USA that advocate for CSEC
victims and seek to change the way law enforcement and
social service providers think about and respond to people
involved in the sex industry before their eighteenth year.
The outcome of these efforts has been uneven, with
some jurisdictions continuing to arrest and imprison pre-
18 year olds who trade sex for money, others accepting the
CSEC model and referring them to family services, and still
others only making service referrals if they identify a pimp
for prosecution. However, a general consensus has emerged
in at least one area: an expanded focus on prosecuting and
imprisoning pimps, as traffickers.
Whereas pimps were once merely a single criminal
element among several involved in the sex trade, they have
become the primary legal bearers of responsibility for
sexual solicitation involving pre-18 year olds under the
CSEC paradigm. In addition to vastly expanded law
enforcement efforts aimed at finding and prosecuting
pimps, work by not-for-profits has sought to create an
awareness of the dangers pimps pose to adolescents,
particularly girls, and to promote public education campaigns
designed to warn and protect those who may be vulnerable to
the combination of coercion and seduction that is believed to
be the pimps stock in trade.
Despite this new policy focus on market-involved
adolescentsa term we use in order to remain agnostic
on the age at which an individual can effectively consent to
trading sex for moneyas a priori victims and their pimps
as inherently criminal traffickers, there remains very little
independent scientific evidence to substantiate the claims
made by CSEC advocates about the nature of adolescent
commercial sexual activity in the USA and the role of
pimps in driving it. Instead, both the government and
activists in the CSEC movement present horror stories by
and about girls who were violently victimized by pimps as
the rule rather than the exception and circulate well-worn,
but generally unsubstantiated statistics about the scope and
nature of the problem.
Kristi House, for instance, warns on its website (www.
the streets, a third are lured into prostitution within
48 hours of leaving home. Most of these cases occur in
major cities such as Miami, where at least 75% of the
minors engaged in prostitution have a pimp(Kristi House
2011). Yet the site provides no source for its data and
offers no explanation for how its statistics were derived.
Finally, several media controversies have erupted recently
around celebrities and politicians using a discredited
statistic, propagated by CSEC activists, that claims
300,000 children in the United States are at risk for
commercial sexual exploitation, including trafficking, at
any given time(US Department of State 2000;seePinto
2011 and Cizmar et al. 2011 for a discussion of the
unreliable nature of this claim).
What is missing from these accounts is rigorous,
independent scholarly knowledge about contemporary sex
markets in the USA and the actual relationships between
sex workers and their market facilitatorsa term we use
instead of pimp to suggest the diversity of the relationships
that occur in street-based sex work. Based on 2 years of
ethnographic and social network research on sex markets in
two cities, this article seeks to address the lacuna by giving an
in situ view of street-based adolescent sex work in the USA.
Our data suggest that the arbitrary division between
child and adult built into the TVPA and the CSEC
paradigm does not reflect the realities of contemporary
urban sex markets in the USA in which sex workers
under and over the age of 18 share the same space,
social conditions, relationships, and in most cases,
degrees of agency. We will argue that by flattening the
complexities and nuances of the lives of real individuals
and their relationships into mass media-generated stereotypes,
and defining young adults as children without the power
to choose their associations, CSEC-driven laws, narratives,
and social service interventions effectively exclude the
154 Sex Res Soc Policy (2012) 9:153166
majority of market-involved adolescents from the protection
and support that advocates claim their paradigm uniquely
provides. Further, these laws, narratives, and interventions
vanish the very real problems and needs of highly vulnerable
young people attempting to survive in difficult situations
behind the powerful, obscurantist trope of the child victim and
the adult sexual trafficker/abuser. At the policy level, we
believe that the TVPA and the CSEC model potentially have
the effect of isolating many market-involved adolescents from
both formal institutional and informal social sources of
Literature Review
Since Eileen Mcleods(1982) groundbreaking study of British
prostitution, the dominant scholarly debate over prostitution
has focused on whether exchanging sex for money is a
potentially normalizable form of work for both men and
women that is not inherently different from other skilled
work, particularly the type that involves creative use of self,
such as acting, teaching, counseling, and so on (Chapkis
1999; Weitzer 2007) or a practice that is inherently degrading
and oppressive to women (Barry 1995; Dworkin 1997;Farley
and Kelly 2000; Jeffries 1997; MacKinnon 1990,1993;
Pateman 1988;Raymond1995,1998).
Within these wide-ranging discussions, there has been
very little work in the USA of the type that has appeared in
the UK that focuses, in situ, on juridical minors involved in
prostitution (see for example Cusick 2002; Heilemann and
Santhiveeran 2011). Prohibitionists have typically assumed
that if prostitution cannot be reconciled with the human
rights of women, anything involving childrenis by
definition worse (Barry 1995). Conversely, normalizers
have rarely engaged the question of the age at which a
prostitute may effectively choose to workor the
conditions under which that work occurs. The scant
scholarship on adolescents involved in the exchange of
sex for money has been largely restricted to theorizers of
the historical construction of childhood and adolescence
(Foucault 1980; James and Prout 1997;Jenks1996),
psychologists and social workers studying trauma (Silbert
and Pines 1981; Heilemann and Santhiveeran 2011),
epidemiologists concerned with the spread of sexually
transmitted diseases (Marshall 2008), and anthropologists
studying child prostitution in the third world (Montgomery
2001). With the exception of Dank (2011) and Curtis et al.
(2008), there has been little interest in an empirical
engagement with the actuality of adolescent street prostitution
in the USA.
Whilemost academic treatments of prostitution have
discussed pimps at some point, scholarly work has rarely
problematized pimps as a subject in their own right. Since
Milner and Milner (1972) produced their groundbreaking
ethnographic study of black pimpsin San Francisco,
pimps have been largely ignored by normalizerswho
view them, a priori, as one among many third partieswho
benefit from criminalization (Jeffrey and Sullivan 2009)
and by prohibitionists who see them as part of the
undifferentiated brutality and woman hatred that drives
prostitution (Farley 2004).
The few extant studies of pimps typically draw their data
from interviews with police, sex workers, and ex-sex workers,
often in situations of incarceration (Norton-Hawk 2004),
who offer portraits very similar to popular stereotypes of
coercive, abusive, violent, and even psychopathic individuals
with little concern for social context or day-to-day social
activity (see Benoit and Millar 2001; Greaves et al. 2004;
Kennedy et al. 2007;Sanders2001; Williamson and
Cluse-Tolar 2010).
Other academic accounts draw on secondary sources,
autobiographical self-reporting, and popular narratives to
interpret the pimp as a counter-hegemonic hero of the
ghetto (Kelley 1998,2001), an expert in doing masculinity
when legitimate avenues of success are blocked (Katz
1988; Messerschmidt 1993), or the creator of exotic,
hierarchic ghetto typologies of financial success and social
performativity (Hodgson 1997; Partridge et al. 2007;
Williamson and Cluse-Tolar 2010;Yang2006). The only
recent study that has attempted a rigorous empirical
engagement with pimps, as a subject in their own right,
was May et al. (2000), which looked at pimps in the UK
through triangulated interviewing.
Our paper makes no claim to engage seriously the
historical debate over prostitution in general or to provide a
definitive account of either self-described pimps or other
market facilitators. Rather, we include here a straightforward
presentation of our data on market-involved adolescents and
focus particularly on their relationships to the various
individuals who facilitate their sex market activity. In contrast
to CSEC advocates who proffer a simplistic, one-size-fits-all
narrative of victim and victimizer, we demonstrate the wide
range of these relationships and aim to capture their
complexities and nuances in order to problematize the current
direction of the social policy of sex work in the USA, with its
growing tendency to collapse prostitution into sex trafficking,
particularly where market-involved adolescents are
Methods, Fieldsites, and Limitations
In 2007, the National Institute of Justice funded our
research team, comprised of researchers at the Center
for Court Innovation (CCI) and John Jay College of
Sex Res Soc Policy (2012) 9:153166 155
Criminal Justice, to estimate the scope of the CSEC
problem in New York City and to determine the needs of
the so-called victims. Over the course of 4 months, we
interviewed 300 market-involved adolescents, all of
whom were under 18 years of age. They were recruited
using Respondent Driven Sampling (RDS), a methodology
used to recruit statistically representative samples of
hard-to-reach groups, like criminal offenders, by taking
advantage of intra-group social connections to build a
sample pool that mirrors the specified target population
(for more information on RDS representative sampling
see Salganik and Heckathorn 2004).
Following the New York project, the Office of Juvenile
Justice and Delinquency Prevention funded our research
team, again a collaboration between CCI and John Jay
College, to conduct a national, six-city survey that would
use RDS to recruit 1,800 young adults between the ages of
13 and 24 in order to estimate for the scope of CSEC in the
USA. In each city, a research team comprised of a principal
investigator and research associates from a local university
would do the research. Atlantic City, New Jersey was
chosen to pilot the study.
A city of only 35,000 people on a tiny 15-km long and
several hundred-meter wide island, roughly 200 km from
New York City, Atlantic City has 11 fully operative and
licensed casinos, making it the USAs second largest
gaming market, and has been memorialized in literature
and cinema as a hub for deviance and prostitution. Despite
the billions of dollars and millions of tourists who enter the
city annually for the beaches and casinos, the citys median
income stands at less than half that of the state as a whole,
and urban blight surrounds and is visible from the edges of
the tourist strip. The expensive new glass and steel
skyscrapers housing casinos along the boardwalk stand in
direct contrast to the vast number of sandlots, the
substandard housing, and the ubiquitous empty buildings,
locally known to the majority African American population
as abandominiums. It is often noted by residents that
there is not a single supermarket currently open in the city.
During nearly a year of fieldwork in Atlantic City in 2010,
we necessarily oscillated between these two contrasting
milieus in search of respondents for our study, but we
spent most of our time in the desolate, fringe areas of the
city usually invisible to the tourists and high-rollers who
frequent the casinos. The data we present here derives
almost exclusively from the Atlantic City study, with the
exception of a few, clearly labeled examples from our
experience in New York City. Additionally, our presentation
of the Atlantic City findings below is informed by the
300 interviews and hours of ethnographic observation we
conducted in New York City, where much of the data we
collected and many of the conclusions we reached were
mirrored in our Atlantic City experience.
Unlike in New York, however, the group of juridical
minors trading sex for money in Atlantic City was not large
enough to grow the RDS recruitment chains necessary for
making a population estimate. Moreover, rather than
existing in a tightly networked and isolated market, the
small number of market-involved adolescents we initially
recruited using RDS were scattered throughout the larger
sex market and networked with other adolescents, adult
sex workers, and a wide variety of individuals playing
ancillary roles in the local sex market. For this reason,
work with juridical adults, all of whom were under 20 at
the time of the interview, and all but one of whom had
traded sex for money before their eighteenth birthday
(see below for a discussion of the woman who did not
trade sex for money until the week after she became a
juridical adult). Thus, unlike the New York Study (Curtis
et al. 2008), which focused solely on minors, we focus
more broadly on adolescents, who encompass a set of
shared socio-economic, psycho-emotional, and cultural
experiences connected to the liminal period between social
childhood and adulthood that now typically stretches from
the early teen years to the early 20s in the USA. We
believe our focus is not only justified by an extensive
body of sociological and psychological literature on
childhood and adolescence but also a significant finding
that reflects the empirical realities of a field site in which
there was no separate market or market practices attached
to the juridical age of majority.
The important discovery that there was not a separate
and sufficiently dense network of market-involved minors
in Atlantic City led to the decision to augment the RDS
recruitment strategy with one more suited to the resources
available in the field, i.e., classic ethnographic recruitment
using key informants. In developing ethnographic collabo-
rations with those who knew the local scene well enough to
find the market-involved adolescents sought for the study,
what we did not anticipate was that many of these people
were themselves direct or indirect sex market functionaries,
including self-described pimps, the very people the FBI
agents, local police, and service providers we met at federal
task force meetings consistently told us would impede
recruitment and harm the kidsor us.
Most of these market facilitators were African American
drug sellers who occasionally referred customers to
individuals selling sex on the main strip along Pacific
Avenue in exchange for $1020 tips. Our most prolific
recruiter called these market facilitators spot pimps,a
designation which highlights the transient nature of their
pimpingand signifies that they had no exclusive control
over any individuals who traded sex for money. For each
successful interview introduction, we paid our informants
$10, and many were eager to assist.
156 Sex Res Soc Policy (2012) 9:153166
In the course of recruiting interviews for us, our
informants occasionally introduced us to self-described
pimps who managed individuals or small groups of adult
sex workers and market-involved adolescents, very few of
whom turned out to be under 18 years of age. In such cases,
we needed to convince both the sex worker and the pimp
that a confidential interview in a separate location was safe.
The self-described, full-time pimps had little interest in
either the $20 being paid for an interview or the $10 being
paid for a referral. In such cases, it was more important to
convince them of the value of telling their story for the
bookthat we told people we were hoping to write. We
often failed to convince sex workers that we were more
than an annoyance, but the pimps, once they had been
convinced we were not a danger to their business, showed a
surprising desire to tell their own stories and allow us to
observe their lives.
In addition to such interviews, we spent long hours on
the streets and in motel parking lots around a wide variety
of market facilitators of the local sex industry; gathering
data on their everyday lives; the lives of the individuals
whose sex market activity they facilitated; and the stories
and views about them from neighbors, associates, friends,
and customers. Indeed, we continued our dialogs with some
of these individuals long after the data collection phase of
the project ended, primarily through letters and phone calls
from jail, where several of them ended up shortly following
the close of data collection.
While we gained important information about the varied
relationships between sex workers and market facilitators
and became intimately familiar with the contours of the
street-based youth sex market in Atlantic City during the
winter, spring, and summer of 2010, we concede that our
research does not allow us to make authoritative claims
concerning the precise dimensions of the entire sex industry
in Atlantic City. In particular, our data can claim no
authority concerning escort services or individual sex
workers and market facilitators who work solely via the
internet. Additionally, during the course of our research, we
encountered no evidence of organized sex trafficking
operations involving the use of force and seclusion to
exploit several women or young girls at once.
Finally, it is worth observing that given the failure of
RDS to grow large recruitment chains of juridical minors
exchanging sex for money, we cannot claim a statistically
representative sample of the market-involved adolescents
in Atlantic City, making demographic conclusions or
comparisons weak. In particular, our respondents were,
for the most part, those market-involved adolescents who
needed the money paid for interviews, or whose friends
needed the referral money. However, this paper attempts
no such comparisons. Instead, our conclusions derive
from extensive ethnographic connections within a city
that is geographically compact, with a small resident
population and an even smaller street-based sex market.
We believe that these particular features of our field site
made our survey closer to a complete census than merely
a sample of Atlantic Citys street-based sex market (for
overall demographics of study participants, see Table 1).
Overall, the findings of our research suggest that the
relationships between market-involved adolescents and
those who benefit from their sexual labor are far more
diverse and complex than the current policy enacted under
the TVPAs logic indicates. In particular, among the many
needs of our respondents (N= 125), protection from a
violent or manipulative pimp trafficker was rarely one of
them. In fact, in a nearly perfect mirror image of our New
York City findings, in which 90% of juridical minors who
responded (N=249) reported having no pimp (Curtis et al.
2008), in Atlantic City, 86% (N=108) of our adolescent
respondents reported not having a pimp (for statistics on the
age breakdown of those with and without pimps, see
Fig. 1). Whether or not respondents had a pimp, many
clearly participated in a great diversity of personal and
financial relationships. When asked if they had someone
who helped them find customers, 40% (N=50) of respondents
answered Yes . Below, we describe these various forms
of market facilitation relationships. We divide them into
the following general categories: affective kinship-based
domestic units, those generally explained by respondents
Table 1 Basic demographic characteristics
(N=125; %)
(N=86; %)
(N=38; %)
Under 18 years old 10 12 5
1821 Years old 43 39 50
2225 Years old 31 31 30
26 Years old and over 11 13 10
White 56 57 55
Black/African American 21 21 21
Hispanic/Latina 11 11 13
Multi-racial/other 10 10 8
Heterosexual 44 43 47
Homosexual 3 3 3
Bisexual 48 49 47
Less than HS diploma 53 52 56
GED or HS diploma 34 33 36
Some college or college degree 9 13 0
Have children 51 59 32
Homeless 31 28 39
Sex Res Soc Policy (2012) 9:153166 157
using terms such as roommate,male or female partner,
husband,”“best friend,and so on; relationships of
opportunity, which involved the spot pimpsmentioned
above; transient households, in which several market-
involved adolescents banded together for safety and support;
and exclusive management relationships, those involving
individuals who could legitimately be described as pimps.
Finally, we conclude this Findingssection by describing
the rare instances of the commercial sexual exploitation of
children we encountered in Atlantic City.
Affective Kinship-Based Domestic Units
Many of the market facilitation relationships we encoun-
tered were closer to what anthropologists refer to as
affective kinship-based domestic units than arrangements
based upon direct and immediate economic exchange. Most
of these relationships did not appear to be primarily
financial and were explained by respondents using terms
such as roommate,male or female partner,”“husband,
best-friend,and so on.
The typological literature on pimping might refer to the
individuals we encountered who provided affective kinship
in addition to customers, physical protection, shelter, food
preparation, childcare, etc. as boyfriend pimps,or men
who are being supported by sex-worker girlfriends.
However, what seems most important in characterizing
these relationships is that neither of the individuals
involved typically used the word pimp during interviews
and that we detected no evidence of force or coercion in
our observations of these relationships.
In one paradigmatic case, a white heterosexual couple
who were both 18 years old had come to Atlantic City from
Florida for the summer. They had no money and were
sleeping in public during the weekends when hotel prices
were often over $100 a night, and staying in cheap motels
on the Blackhorse pike (the southern road out of the city)
on weeknights when a room could be had for under $30.
They both took their meals at the soup kitchen where
researchers often recruited interviewees. During the young
womans interview, the young man talked informally with
one of the principal investigators about their relationship.
Yeah, she is supporting us until we go back south,
where I can get work.
Does this make you a pimp?asked the investigator,
hoping to elicit a bit of gangsta masculinity.
The young man became angry:
Thats my wife. We are married. Someday shell give
me a son. Besides, she never has sex with them. I
would never allow that. Did you ever hear of CBT?
Thats Cock and Ball Torture. She beats on guys
when they are naked, kicks them in the balls, all kinds
of stuff. But Id never let my wife do it with another
guy. Im not a pimp. Imher husband.
After the interview was over, the principal investigator
checked with the interviewer and discovered that this mans
wife had said that she had no pimp but that she was having
sexual intercourse for money and supporting herself and her
boyfriend until they returned to Florida. While the young
womans admission to the interviewer is likely more honest
than what her partner reported, it would be difficult to argue
that the force, coercion, or manipulation associated with
pimping, or indeed, sex trafficking applies to this young
couple on the road.
For those who accept the TVPA logic and the CSEC
narrative, age differentials are clearly important in
determining coercion and agency, but race, ethnicity, and
country of birth also seem to matter in constructing the trope
of pimp. For example, we interviewed a 19-year-old white
woman who had been exchanging sex for money for nearly
3 years and who was involved in a relationship with an older
African American man. She was about 62with poor skin
and 7 months pregnant, and the man she described as her
boyfriend was a largish man in his 40s. Dressed far too
slovenly to fit the pimp stereotype, the man was dragging
along a backpack and keeping an eye on the woman in a way
that suggested he was her protection.He asked how long the
interview would last and was told 45 min to an hour. Ok, I
might as well put my shit out,he said. He proceeded to pull
bags full of incense out of his backpack and set up a display on
Pacific Avenue. While she was being interviewed, the man
engaged in an informal discussion with one of the principal
It turned out that they were sharing a room in one of
the boarding houses on the strip and that he was the
father of the baby she was carrying. He sold incense
sticks on the street, which he made himself, while
Under 18 18-21 22-25 Over 26 Unreliable/No
Pimp or No Pimp: Age Breakdown (N=125)
No Pimp
Fig. 1 The age breakdown of those with and without pimps
158 Sex Res Soc Policy (2012) 9:153166
providing market facilitation and protection for his
girlfriend. He claimed that he was bringing in about
$55aday(hesoldthree510-dollar bundles while
talking) and that his girlfriends income was far larger,
but less steady and could not be relied upon much
longer. As he put it, Shes the one paying the rent, but
that cantgoonforever.Shes about to give birth. We
gotta find another hustle soon.When asked directly if
his market facilitationmadehimthewomans pimp, he
started laughing: Do you think Idbesittinghereinthe
sun selling incense if I was a pimp? Imjusttryingtoget
by like everybody else.He turned the subject towards
the research project and talked about his former days as a
low-level social service worker.
Their difference in age and race, combined with the fact
that he was probably already living off her sexual labor
before her eighteenth birthday, mean that he could easily be
imprisoned for sex trafficking if she was, for instance,
caught with a customer or with drugs and offered a deal
in exchange for turning on him. However, we noticed
little to suggest violence, intimidation, manipulation, or
any significant profit. The sense that emerged from our
observations and from both the formal and informal
interviews was that the two of them were sharing some
fleeting sexually based kinship that included protection,
companionship, income, and market facilitation. The
woman suggested to her interviewer that while she was
fond of him, she was not likely to stay with him for very
long after the baby was born. She envisioned a more
conventional life for her child than could be provided by
a black 40-something ex-social service worker selling
incense in Atlantic City. From the informal discussion
with him, it seemed that he was aware of her doubts
about the relationship and not unhappy that he might
escape financial responsibility for the child.
These types of affective kinship-based relationships did
not always depend on the heterosexual dyad. In one case, a
young white lesbian who was 17 and had just finished high
school in the suburbs was living with her early 20s
girlfriend, who she was supporting through her exchange
of sex for money. She was articulate, attractive, clean cut,
and stylish in an understated way. She said that her
girlfriend was mostly unemployed and contributed to the
relationship by keeping house, paying bills, and offering
her the emotional support she needed to perform her job,
which she described as neither fun nor easy. She mostly
obtained customers from spot pimps and often depended on
them for protection. Despite the similarities between her
girlfriends role and that of a classic pimp, the young
woman clearly did not view her girlfriend as a pimp. Within
the TVPAs legal framework, however, the older girlfriend
living off of the sexual labor of this juridical minor might
be arrested as a sex trafficker.
Finally, this type of affective kinship-based domestic
unit often involved close but nonsexual relationships. For
example, a 19-year-old white male who identified as
bisexual and claimed to have been 14 years old the first
time he had exchanged sex for money answered Yes to
the question, Do you have someone who helps you find
customers?and characterized this person as a pimp, but
he described a close but nonsexual relationship with a
woman who feels the same about life, so sheseasyto
talk to.Similarly, a 20-year-old white female also said
that she had a pimp, but she described the pimpas an
old friendwho was female and whom she had met at a
social service program a number of years earlier. She
noted that this old friend helpsmemakealotof
In each of these cases, and in most of the other similarly
structured affective kinship relationships we encountered,
market-involved adolescents displayed far more agency
than is suggested by the TVPAs logic, and the seduction,
manipulation, kidnapping, torture, brainwashing, and
sexual slavery described in the CSEC literature was
utterly absent.
Relationships of Opportunity
We encountered many relationships that did involve
immediate economic exchange without affective kinship,
involving individuals who fit the stripped-down definition
of a pimp as someone who profits from the sexual labor of
another,but these were nearly always relationships of
opportunity, involving payment for services rendered in a
specific time and place rather than long-term management.
The most common of these relationships involved sex
workers and market facilitators who we came to identify
as the spot pimpsmentioned above. None of them had
management rights or any other type of exclusive
arrangement with the young women and men they
claimed to be pimping, and none of the young respondents
interviewed referred to them as either pimps or spot pimps.
Instead, these respondents insisted that the person who
helped them find customers was not a pimpand tended
to describe them as guys who help me get customers,
friends who look out for me,or simply drug dealers
who watch out for me.
The ubiquity of these mostly young African American
men, and occasionally young women, on the streets was
evident on our first night of extended fieldwork. Walking
down one of the main drug-selling blocks in Atlantic
City, which has a strip joint in the middle, we were
offered all manner of substances. When it became clear
that we were not interested in buying drugs, they
indicated that they could get us girls.We came to
know the lives of many of these market facilitators who
Sex Res Soc Policy (2012) 9:153166 159
engaged in a wide range of hustlesfrom their perches
on street corners, stoops, and other public spaces. Spot
pimpingprovided only a small part of their income, and
only some of the younger men identified what they were
doing as pimping.
In our observations of and conversations with these
young men, we noticed little of the sexual or financial
power and virtually none of the violence and coercion
typically associated with pimping or sex trafficking. One
discussion between several young men who self-identified
as pimps is instructive. It focused on what types of girls
should be avoided. The consensus was that drug-addicted
white girls could not be trusted to deliver the $1020
referral fee. They described experiences where junkie-girls
had climbed out windows, gone out back entrances,
claimed they had already paid, and generally scammed
them out of their money. There aint nothing you can do
to get your money from those hos,said one man. What
are ya gonna do, beat on somebody for $20?Several
agreed and suggested that it was tough to get away with
exacting revenge, since the girls sometimes had friends
who would protect them and the police were always
looking for an excuse to make life difficult for young
black men. One of the market-involved adolescents we
interviewed succinctly captured the spot pimpslack of
power when she responded to the question, How do you
avoidpimpswhowanttotakeyourmoney?by noting,
matter-of-factly, I cross the street.
Regardless of how tough, successful, knowledgeable
about the street, or capable of collecting payment these
spot pimpsmay or may not be, they are clearly not the
sexual predators or sex traffickers described in the CSEC
model. We believe they are more accurately characterized
as casualized laborers in the drug and sex industry. If
they have any control over market-involved adolescents,
it is occasional and limited. Summing up the view shared
by many of the young and not-so-young women and men
who paid them, one young woman said, Spot pimps?
Are you kidding? Theyre just failed drug dealers and
While the spot pimp was by far the most common type
of market facilitator we encountered, we also observed a
wide diversity of ancillary services of opportunity in the
sex industry that involved various forms of immediate
exchange. From casino bartenders who allowed young
and not-very-professional women to work the barin
exchange for money or sex, to merchants who allowed
sex workers to use the rooms above their stores in
similar exchanges, to peep show attendants who expected
tips from gay male hustlers working their territory, the
street market for sex involves a plethora of relationships
of opportunity, few of which involve the force or
coercion associated with pimping or sex trafficking.
Transient Households
We encountered several complex arrangements in which a
number of market-involved adolescents banded together
into transient household units for protection and informal
social support. For instance, a 17-year-old self-identified
gay male discussed being part of a group of young men
who all lived together and who all traded sex for money. He
called these household members his pimps,but in such
cases, the role of pimp and prostitute tended to be
interchangeable. In other cases, these transient household
relationships involved a legal adult who did systematically
benefit from the sexual labor of market-involved adolescents,
but none of them appeared to fit the CSEC/TVPAs
construction of the dangerous sex trafficker abusing innocent
child victims.
In one case, a woman whose nickname was Mamma
was running a boarding house for market-involved
adolescents of both sexes. Some joked that Mamma
was their pimp, but then indicated in the interview that
they had no pimp. Mamma owned a large house a few
blocks off the beach, towards the bay. She rented rooms,
provided board, and used her local networks to help
market-involved adolescents find customers, as well as
providing advice about the lifeand childcare and
parenting tips. She was clearly feared and had been
known to physically threaten boarders who gave her
trouble. However, her house was also known as a place
where young people could live in safety and be assured
that they would have food, diapers, childcare, and other
necessities on credit, if they did not make enough money
or spent what they made on drugs. Her credit rates were
high, but nobody actually had any stories about her
getting violent with young women or men who could not
We also managed to gain the trust of an adult who was
benefiting from the sexual labor of others through his
ownership of a space in which he managed a far more
informal and less safe version of Mammas house. Shane
was a white man in his early 30s whose apartment in
Atlantic City was adjacent to a major casino and the center
for a variety of illegal sex and drug activities for teenagers
and many others. During a videotaped interview, the
apartment showed evidence of crack vials, syringes, and
other drug paraphernalia. Shane openly discussed his
relationships with three market-involved adolescent
women, each of which contained elements of market
facilitation and economic exchange.
One of the young women was, according to Shane, a
white girl in her 20s who had left, but would come back
here at some pointbecause shes got her clothes here.
He discussed another young woman who was 18 years old
and who also stayed in his apartment on occasion. Her
160 Sex Res Soc Policy (2012) 9:153166
name was Janine, and everybody described her as the one
with the baby fat.Of her, he noted, She prostitutes; she
helps me out.His relationship with the third girl, a very
skinny 17-year-old named Kat, was more complicated. He
told us that she had been his girlfriend previously and that
she had been 16 years old at the time of their first meeting
when she approached him in a casino to ask for heroin, to
which her previous boyfriend had introduced her.
At the time of the interview, Shane observed that Kats
current boyfriend, Curtis, a half-Haitian and half-Irish
19-year-old from Staten Island, was downstairs in the
basement with Janine with the baby fat.Shane bemoaned
the fact that Kat and Janine had not been staying in his
apartment for the last few days. As he put it, They used to
pull in some money that they didnt wanna share with me,
so theyd rather sleep in the basementbecause they dont
wanna offer me any. Theyd rather sleep with water bugs
[in the basement]than help me out.Shane was
convinced that Kat had relocated to the basement with
Curtis because Curtis had better access to drugs than
Shane had. Later, when we interviewed Curtis, he
admitted that one of the ways he made money was by
pimpingboth girls, but he added, Its not like they
dont pimp for me when the only money coming in is
from men who like men.His friend Karelafourth
member of this transient household sleeping in the
basementwas in his late teens. Echoing Curtissentiment,
Karel noted, It is much more fun to be a pimp than a
prostitute, but we all stick together and do for each other.
For everybody involved in this transient household,
prostitution was only secondary to the use of drugs, and the
story ended in tragedy. Early in the summer, Karel helped
Janine find a customer who wanted her in his hotel room at
the northern end of the strip. He seemed harmless, and both
teenagers figured it would be a simple transaction like the
ones they participated in every day. As she often did in such
circumstances, Janine did heroin upon arriving in the mans
hotel room. When Karel had not heard from her after her
arrival, he called her phone and got the customer, who
reported that she had started overdosing and he had been
paralyzed by fear about what to do. Karel immediately
called 911 and used the upfront moneyhe had gotten
from the customer to take a taxi to the casinos hotel room.
He arrived just before the police and found it was too late to
revive her. The police arrested him for an existing drug
Many of the respondents and researchers who knew
Janine felt that her death was partially Shanes fault, since
he had been the only real adult in the teenagerslives.
AlthoughShane was a legal adult, he was frequently in and
out of prison and could not possibly be described as a pimp
or sex trafficker, given his lack of control over where the
young women slept or to whom they gave their money.
Many felt that if he had acted more like an in-control pimp
and less like one of the lost, drug-addicted adolescents who
stayed with him, the tragedy might have been avoided. On
paper, such as a police report, this tragedy might seem like
an example of how child victims get used up by sex
traffickers and then left for dead. The ethnographic portrait
presented here hopefully demonstrates how such accounts
can oversimplify and hinder rather than help efforts to make
a difference in the lives of market-involved-adolescents
attempting to survive on the street.
market-involved adolescents banded together into transient
households. Often, within these groups, prostituteand
pimpwere roles played at various times by each
member of a group of young people, rather than discrete
identities or permanent, full-time jobs.Financial gain
was rarely a consideration for these young people, whose
engagement with the sex industry was based on the
struggle to survive and often to support drug habits.
They typically formed these transient households in
efforts to gain a measure of safety and support.
Exclusive Management Relationships: Real and Almost-
Real Pimps
In addition to the relationships described above, some
respondents did describe relationships that could conceivable
fit into the prostitutepimp dyad. In these cases,
respondents either directly identified an exclusive market
facilitator as my pimpor gave answers that strongly
indicated they had one. However, not all of these
relationships were clear cut examples. In particular,
differentials of power, agency, and control turn out to
be crucial in understanding how to judge these relationships.
For the 20% of market-involved adolescents under 21 years
old who said that someone helped them find customers, it was
rare that this person seemed to hold most or all of the power,
and we encountered only a few cases where there was
evidence of force or coercion.
One respondent who admitted to having a pimp
discussed a relationship in which she seemed to hold more
power than the person she identified as her pimp did. This
relationship was actually a triad, where one man was the
pimp for two young women, one under and one over
18 years old. The two young women had hooked up with
each other and were perhaps lovers, but they had
apparently chosen a slightly older African American
protection and directing customers to them, but it seemed
that his primary role was running errands, buying
groceries, and maintaining their housing with its attendant
payments. In exchange, they supported him in the house
and the older one provided him with sex. While all three
Sex Res Soc Policy (2012) 9:153166 161
referred to him as the pimp and showed him the respect
typically due pimps from their girls,the conditions
under which they brought him into their relationship and
boy Friday as the type of gangster one normally thinks
of when the term pimp is invoked. It seemed clear that
the continuation of his role and the maintenance of his
housing depended on his keeping the women pleased
rather than vice versa, and that being the pimpdid not
entitle him to sexual access to the younger woman.
Researchers encountered several such inversions of the
power relations expected in the prostitutepimp dynamic.
In several instances, researchers were approached by pimps
with exclusive management of one girl who had failed to
share the $2050 that accrued from the combination of
interviews and referrals. As one of these men, who had sole
managementof a 19-year-old sex worker, said before
heading off to Dunkin Donuts, where the interviewers
told him they thought his girl had gone, She doesnt
understand what it means that I am her pimp. She just
does what she wants.
Another respondent who said she had a pimp described a
relationship that was possibly more exploitative than the
triad described above but seemed to involve two young
people very inexperienced with the sex industry. This
interviewee was a young woman who had turned 18 years
old a mere week before the interview. She identified as
white and as bisexual. She was short, somewhat heavy, and
seemed to have a slight intellectual disability. She said she
had been living in Atlantic City and exchanging sex for
money for only 1 week. Apparently, she had fought with
her parents on the day before her eighteenth birthday, and
the fight had led to her parents driving her to Atlantic City
and telling her not to come back to their house.
She went to Covenant House, a local provider of
housing services for youth, where she had met the young
man she identified as her pimp and whom she called her
boyfriendthroughout the interview. She thought that he
was around 20 years old. She reported that she and the
young man had left the Covenant House and had sex
under the boardwalk. When the staff at Covenant House
discovered that they were having sex, they were both
evicted. She said they were both homeless and living
under the boardwalk and that their only source of income
was the money she made through prostitution. She said
that he had been negotiating prices and collecting the
proceeds from her labor, which he was spending on
cigarettes and pot,which she said she did not mind. As
she told the interviewer, I follow him wherever he
goes.IlovehimtodeathHe proposed to me.
Another respondent answered Nowhen asked if she
had a pimp but described a situation that belied this answer.
She was a young African American woman who claimed to
be 18 years old, but answers to age-related questions
suggested she may have been 19. She discussed having
been homeless for the 6 or 7 months preceding the
interview and noted that she lived at The Mission, a local
service provider. She said she had been exchanging sex for
money and/or other necessities for about a year and a half
and sharing her income with a male friend whom she
described as pretty cool; hes like a big brothera big
brother that really loves youbecause he has my back,
you know, when I have problems and Imi
nneed of
things.She reported that he had six other girls for whom
he did thisalways on a part-time basis.
Although these last two examples contain some elements
that suggest the type of coercion, manipulation, and
power dynamics associated with popular views of
pimping, they are missing crucial components. The
boyfriendof the 18-year-old with the disability seemed
clearly to be taking advantage of a vulnerable young
woman, but pimps, as they are commonly typified, are
rarely 20-year-old men living under boardwalks. The
example involving the young woman and the big
brotherseems to indicate some degree of control and
manipulation, but the fact that the young woman was
living at a local service provider and that the man she
discussed was only involved on a part-time basis suggests the
understandings of pimping.
In addition to these somewhat ambiguous cases,
researchers did encounter relationships involving real
pimpswho held a higher degree of control over their girls.
They typically worked in the higher echelons of Atlantic
Citys sex market, and their social performativity might
qualify them to be interviewed on television as so-called
macks.On Friday and Saturday nights, we observed
well-dressed women in their mid-20s with huge amounts
of sexual capital working a barin upscale casinos,
such as Borgata and Caesars Palace. Typically a sharply
dressed African American man sat and drank nearby and
negotiated deals with customers. These women usually
laughed at us when we suggested that they could make
$50 for an interview and two referrals. Their pimps,
however, despite not needing the money either, agreed to
tell us their stories after they had been pointed out to us
by our spot pimp recruiters.
In one of these cases, we came to know a real pimp
who called himself Nomad and had a thriving business in
the lower-end casinos at the northern end of town. We did
several interviews with him and his friends, who were also
perched between the high-end casino trade and the street
sex market. They were all managing girls who were clearly
in their 20s and strongly believed that pimping underage
girls was dangerous and unprofitable due to young girls
immaturity, inexperience at manipulating mens fantasies,
162 Sex Res Soc Policy (2012) 9:153166
and inability to master the finer points of dressing and
carrying themselves properly in public and in bed. This
business model based on managing women in their early
20s is corroborated by our data (see Fig. 1) from interviews
with sex market providers, who are less likely to report
having a pimp before the age of 18 and after the age of 24.
Nomad and the other self-described pimps were initially
quite perplexed and alarmed when we told them that we
wanted to interview underageyouth involved in prosti-
tution, which they seemed to equate with pedophilia.
Nomad was arrested in late 2010 on drug charges, but we
continued to communicate with him through weekly
letters from prison. In one of them, he wrote that much
of what people say and write about pimps suffers from
misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the role of a
pimp.He worried that the people making judgments
about pimps have not actually met pimps or gotten to
know what they do. After we sent Nomad our abstracts
about pimping for the upcoming American Society of
Criminology meetings in November 2011, he urgently
wrote back and insisted that academics have got it all
wrong. According to him,
The only thing a pimp prey (sic) on is money, but
chasing after under age girls is sick! If a man deals in
supplying kids to other adults for sex, then hes not a
pimp, hes a C.S.M. (Child Slave Master). You cannot
confuse the two, a C.S.M. and a pimp is (sic) two
different occupations. A C.S.M. thrives off the
innocents, as well as the naivety of children. A pimp
provides assistance to adults who consentually (sic)
engage in acts of prostitution. Wheres the crime in
Nomad and his friends were particularly insistent that
the common view of pimps recruiting the women they
manage through guile or violence was a Hollywood
fantasy and that many times they had been actively
recruited by women who had heard about their good
reputation, or that partnerships had been initiated in a
mutual way.
Some sex workers that we met in their late 20s and early
30s who saw their work as a career corroborated Nomads
vision of mutuality and conveyed stories about winning
over good pimps.One woman in her late 20s, whose
mother was the manager of a brothel, told us that until she
could save enough to start her own brothel, she would
rather work with a real pimpthan for a madam in an
escort service. When asked what a real pimp is, she
succinctly stated, A real pimp is not trying to get money
from a girl, she wants to give it.She described somebody
who is strong, makes sure you do the right thing with your
money, introduces you to the right customers, gives you
advice about how to play men, and forces all the creeps out
there to show you some respect. When asked if such people
really exist, she said yes, of course, but there are only
maybe six of them in this whole city and most of them are
already taken up with their girls.
Commercial Sexual Exploitation
Finally, researchers did encounter a small number of
situations that seemed to fit the pattern of abuse covered
under the TVPA and described in the CSEC literature. One
of these cases involved a 17-year-old girl who identified as
black and heterosexual and who had been born and raised
in Atlantic City with her older brother and her mother. She
reported completing her eleventh year of school a mere
month or so before the interview. She was interviewed in
front of a two-story house with a porch on both floors.
During the interview, a man who researchers believed to be
the girls pimp remained nearby, but he was asked to
move when it became clear that his presence was
hindering her ability to answer questions. He went
upstairs to the second-floor porch, but the girl was still
clearly uncomfortable, repeatedly looking up at the
porch. It became increasingly clear that the girl was
giving little thought to her responses and was merely
attempting to finish the interview as quickly as possible.
Rather than seriously considering her responses, she
offered one-word responses with no elaboration. Finally,
the interviewer asked the girl if she was scared and told
her to just write yes or no on the paper. The girl took the
pen with what the interviewer remembered as a shaking
hand and wrote down the word Yes .
In another case, we interviewed a 16- and a 19-year-old
at night in a pizzeria. They had been referred by a spot
pimp, who had convinced them to be interviewed despite
their concern that their pimp did not want them speaking to
us. They said that he was out of town that night and figured
that the interview would be an easy way to make $40. As
the older one put it, I need some cigarettes and some
diapers, and there aint no money around the house.She
was a Latina, had a young child, and claimed to be the
pimps girlfriend. She said that she prostituted herself and
gave him the money. She insisted that he was a decent guy
and that he spent most of the money on her.
The 16-year-old, who was African American and quite
heavy, seemed to be somewhat disassociated. She indicated
that her pimp was her foster father and said she did not like
having sex with strange men. She boasted that her pimp
never touched her sexually and seemed proud to say that he
did not let her stay out late on school nights. The interview
had a strange furtive feel with both women keeping an eye
out, as if they were afraid that their pimp or one of his
friends might see them. When asked if she needed any help,
Sex Res Soc Policy (2012) 9:153166 163
the 16-year-old was emphatic about wanting to stay with
him, arguing that he was more caring and more concerned
for her future than her biological parents or any of the other
foster parents with whom she had been placed.
Conclusion: Is Child to Adult as Victim is to Criminal?
The last two cases described seem clearly to involve
commercial sexual exploitation and we would agree with
CSEC activists that such abuse must be uncovered with
whatever investigative tools are available and addressed
with full social, psychological, and legal recognition of the
victimsreduced potential for consent. However, the rarity
of these cases in our research suggests that the resources
and policy interventions dedicated to this issue are utterly
out of scale with the actual problem. Moreover, our data
indicates that perhaps the least important factor in
determining whether a person is being coerced or manipulated
by a pimp or a sex trafficker is age itself. Without respect to
age, the overwhelming majority of the over 400 market-
involved young people we interviewed in New York City and
Atlantic City, and the many more we met or observed during
our 2 years of research, would likely be trading sex for money
with or without being involved in any of the types of
relationships we described above. In short, these young
people exchange sex for money not because they are being
held and trafficked as sex slavesbut because they have drug
habits, are attempting to survive on the streets on their own,
are escaping from difficult family situations, and exist at the
lowest stratum of a socio-economic and cultural system that is
failing them.
Currently, the minimum wage in the USA is $7.25 an
hour and jobs offering such paltry wages rarely carry
health, education, or childcare benefits. As is always
affirmed during discussions about raising the level of the
federal minimum wage, it is intentionally set low in order to
encourage high youth employment levels, as more than half
of all minimum wage employees are between the ages of 16
and 24. Despite these admirable intentions, unemployment
for this group consistently remains over 20% in the USA.
This is typically considered acceptable because youth
employment is expected to be supplementary to parental
support. It is for this reason that the government and
universities determine financial aid packages for tertiary
students based on parental tax returns, and President Barack
Obama recently raised the age at which childrencan
remain on their parentswork-based, private health insurance
policies to 27. Childhood is clearly extending further and
further into the lifecycle in the USA, and it has had a
devastating impact on the subjects of our study: adolescents
who, for whatever reason, find themselves attempting to live
independent lives and to survive on the street.
While some of our respondents were engaging in
prostitution to support self-destructive drug habits, many
of them sought independent adult lives due to terrible
family situations that had already taken away the cloak of
childhood that is expected to cover most American
adolescents until sometime in their late teens or early 20s.
Regardless of how they were spending their money or
living their lives, they were clear and articulate about the
fact that the market facilitators, adult or otherwise, who
were part of their lives were typically the least of their
problems. At the end of each interview, we asked our
respondents what they would need if they wanted to get out
of this life.Out of a total of 101 responses from 80
respondents who answered (some gave more than one
answer), 63 responses were related to the need for
employment, stable income, help with drug addiction,
housing, and education. Not one of our respondents
indicated that they needed to be protected from a violent
pimp or sex trafficker, and, as noted above, those who may
indeed have needed such an intervention, despite not
indicating so, were extremely rare.
Whether an affective kinship-based relationship, a transient
household unit, a relationship of opportunity, or an exclusive
management relationship, the associations in which these
market-involved adolescents were involved often constituted
the only or the most crucial foundation for their support
network. Any social policy that fails to take account of the
complexity of such relationships by flattening them into a
one-size-fits-all pattern based upon the arbitrary division
between childand adultendangers them. Age differ-
entials are important to consider in both social and legal
attempts to understand and address the relationships between
market-involved-adolescents and those who benefit from
their sexual labor. However, a social policy based on the idea
that a market-involved 16- or 17-year-old, living indepen-
dently, possibly with children, is a priori a child victim with
needs utterly different from an 18-year-old, now magically
transformed into an adult criminal, in similar circumstances,
potentially ignores the needs of both groups.
In the absence of a comprehensive reform of the low
wage, low autonomy, socio-legal framework of adolescence
in the USA and a dramatic decrease in youth unemploy-
ment levels, it is unlikely that a significant number of
adolescents who habitually trade sex for money will be
dissuaded from doing so either by the enforcement
apparatus of the TVPA or by the moral crusading of the
CSEC movement. While it is of course necessary to protect
any child from commercial sexual exploitation and while
there is a need for efforts targeted at the problem, the
funding and resources dedicated to it should be determined
by rigorous research into its nature and scope.
Policymakers should rethink this incursion of the sex
trafficking model into the policies and practices governing
164 Sex Res Soc Policy (2012) 9:153166
prostitution and, instead, focus on addressing the question
of what market-involved adolescents need and how to
provide it to them. Where force, coercion, and manipulation
is occurring in these markets, domestic violence and
kidnapping laws, along with the social service best
practicesthat accompany them, should be utilized to
handle victimizers and attend to the needs of victims.
Meanwhile, funding for interventions aimed at helping
adolescents, under and over 18 years of age, combat drug
addiction, continue their education, obtain stable housing,
and build marketable job skills should be increased and
more effectively utilized.
Market-involved adolescents need safe spaces free of
judgment and social services that recognize their dignity
and autonomy. This can be done in a policy context that
respects the current age of legal consent laws of each state
and grants the vast majority of the market-involved
adolescents we encountered in our research the legal
right to their sexual subjectivity. Within this type of
policy environment, culpability and agency should not be
determined a prior but rather by drawing on a thorough
knowledge of the particulars of each case accompanied
by an independent body of research that can situate and
contextualize those particulars within a comprehensive
understanding of the social dynamics of youth participation
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... Specifically, in the context of sex trafficking, victims frequently interact with those inside of their social circle (e.g., other members of their peer group) and those outside of their social circle (e.g., clients, buyers). However, though they are presented with these social opportunities, the victim may not seek help and may not feel supported (Marcus et al., 2012). The following section will address this discrepancy by introducing the two primary ways in which functional isolation can develop outside of a reliance on force or physical barriers (i.e., structural isolation): (a) elimination of privacy and (b) lack of reliable or safe social support despite the appearance of social networks. ...
... Indeed, many of the participants noted that they began to be afraid of everyone and anyone and were unable to clearly judge who might be genuinely helpful and who might be aligned with the trafficker. Under such circumstances, whereby the abuser becomes a primary-and potentially, sole-source of support, it is no surprise that victims spoke lovingly about the same men who had raped, tortured, and exploited them emotionally, sexually, and physically (Doychak & Raghavan, 2018;Marcus et al., 2012). This kind of isolation speaks to the daily fear and powerlessness survivors feel and how easy it is for outsiders to misunderstand victims' responses toward help as passive or mislabel the individual as voluntarily remaining in trafficking situations. ...
... Although we did not include the trafficker as a significant source of support (Marcus et al., 2012;Sanders & Nee, 1996), all narratives included at least one spontaneous quote from a survivor stating that her trafficker was a support for her and that she remained in the relationship, at least initially, because of her affection for the trafficker (Doychak & Raghavan, 2018). Thus, in including the victim's perspective, we reconceptualized the social support received by including the trafficker as a primary source. ...
Full-text available
The study of sexual exploitation of trafficked victims cannot be done without understanding their enforced isolation. To better understand the dynamics of isolation, this study examined how traffickers used different elements of isolation and how such tactics may have contributed to the traffickers’ success in maintaining control over the victim(s). We examined in-depth narratives from 14 women between the ages of 20 to 53, primarily immigrants, who were recruited from an agency serving victims of sex trafficking in a large metropolitan city. The tactics used by traffickers varied and included not only the commonly defined structural isolation in which victims are restricted physically and socially, but also included a shrinking of safe social space and an elimination of privacy and social support. The latter, which we label as functional isolation, refers to instances when survivors are surrounded by peers who are either unreliable or aligned with the trafficker and thus are unable to give true social support. Survivors reported a combination of isolation tactics (i.e., both structural isolation and functional isolation). The different interwoven types and patterns of isolation reported by former victims of trafficking help address a dearth in the coercive control and abuse literature, providing a richer understanding of isolation in trafficking survivors.
... A focus upon this larger context -in which youth may embrace prostitution as a problematic solution rather than seeing it as the problem in and of itselfhelps to explain young people's decision-making around prostitution (Montgomery 2001;O'Connell Davidson 2005;Kaye 2007;Curtis et al. 2008;Mai 2011;Marcus et al. 2012). While even limited forms of agency should be key factors in the development of appropriate services, a narrow focus upon the extreme danger represented by 'sex trafficking' inevitably steers interventions toward 'rescue', often facilitated by police and arrest. ...
... Hersh 2013: 261). It should be noted in this regard that persons identified as 'traffickers' have a wide variety of relationships with their 'victims', and that many of these are closer to peer or mentoring relationships and look little like the one-sided patterns of exploitation that are typically imagined (Curtis et al. 2008;Marcus et al. 2012Marcus et al. , 2014. Even in cases of clear abuse, intense intimacies can develop that render efforts to force testimony problematic at best. 10 As noted by Ware (2011), queer, trans and gender conforming youth are sometimes subjected to this type of 'treatment' no matter the cause of their arrest. ...
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Discussion of sex trafficking has been notable for the way in which it has generally excluded significant mention of male victims. While scholars have pointed toward stereotypical notions equating manhood and invulnerability in accounting for men’s invisibility, this explanation fails to examine the gendered nature of sex trafficking discourse itself, further missing the highly emotive elements that lead away from a subjective identification with the moral and sexual plight of male victims. For a variety of reasons what I term the anti-drama of male rape generally results in a story that is ‘better left untold’, one whose disturbing emotional content differs dramatically from the melodramatic and significantly eroticised narrative of ‘female sexual slavery’. The goal of simply recognising that men and boys are victims of sex trafficking is revealed as not only unfeasible, but undesirable, as the melodramatic requirements of the discourse make it incapable of identifying the actual needs and issues faced by the vast majority of sex workers, even those in situations of extreme exploitation and coercion. After detailing the likely consequences of including men and boys within the sex trafficking narrative I point toward interventions rooted in complex narratives that eschew the simplistic binaries of melodrama as a better way forward.
... A focus upon this larger context -in which youth may embrace prostitution as a problematic solution rather than seeing it as the problem in and of itselfhelps to explain young people's decision-making around prostitution (Montgomery 2001; O' Connell Davidson 2005;Kaye 2007;Curtis et al. 2008;Mai 2011;Marcus et al. 2012). While even limited forms of agency should be key factors in the development of appropriate services, a narrow focus upon the extreme danger represented by 'sex trafficking' inevitably steers interventions toward 'rescue', often facilitated by police and arrest. ...
... Hersh 2013: 261). It should be noted in this regard that persons identified as 'traffickers' have a wide variety of relationships with their 'victims', and that many of these are closer to peer or mentoring relationships and look little like the one-sided patterns of exploitation that are typically imagined (Curtis et al. 2008;Marcus et al. 2012Marcus et al. , 2014. Even in cases of clear abuse, intense intimacies can develop that render efforts to force testimony problematic at best. 10 As noted by Ware (2011), queer, trans and gender conforming youth are sometimes subjected to this type of 'treatment' no matter the cause of their arrest. ...
... The available research on these obstacles is usually based on the views of the professionals involved (Hampton, 2019;Lefevre et al., 2019). Professionals point at multiple challenges to the accessibility of services to CSEY-including the hidden nature of CSE, miss conceptualization of the problem of CSE of youth by both professionals and CSEY (Marcus et al., 2012;Musto, 2013), lack of coordination between services (Harper & Scott, 2005;Pearce, 2011), lack of awareness or understanding among professionals of CSE (Clawson et al., 2009;Lillywhite & Skidmore, 2006;Rafferty, 2016), and lacking or conflicting legislation and legal mandates (Clawson et al., 2009;Halter, 2010). These obstacles may be compounded by psychological challenges-such as a trauma bond with a trafficker, fear, lack of trust and inhibition by shame and stigma (Berelowitz et al., 2012). ...
This interpretive qualitative meta-synthesis (QMS) aims to systematically review what we know about the help-seeking and help-related experiences of commercially sexually exploited youth (CSEY). A comprehensive search of the relevant databases was conducted to identify published qualitative peer-reviewed papers and research reports about the experiences and perceptions of CSEY. A corpus of 34 qualitative studies was compiled and synthesized, using the conceptual framework of help-seeking and QMS guidelines. The QMS reveals that although help-seeking of CSEY are rarely the focus of the inquiry, the reviewed studies include meaningful information about help-related experiences of CSEY. Thus, the synthesis of the available data yields novel insights about how CSEY perceive their involvement in CSE, define the problems they deal with, decide to seek help, choose the proper help, and engage in helping relations. Particularly, the QMS underscores that CSEY do not always perceive their involvement in CSE as problematic, nor do they identify themselves as victims of exploitation. The findings highlight the significance of developing social services that specialize in helping CSEY, the importance of actively identifying CSEY and reaching out to them, and the need to enable CSEY to be involved in decisions about the extent and type of support they are provided.
... Consequently, women who trade sex encounter diverse social service organizations that target prostitution, sex trafficking, homelessness, SUDs, mental health, intimate and sexual violence, and post-incarceration reentry (Hankel, Dewey, & Martinez, 2016;Macy & Johns, 2011;Marcus et al., 2011). For example, one study found that more than 50% of women entering SUD treatment in the United States reported having traded sex for money or drugs in their lifetime, and 41% did so within the past year (Burnette et al., 2008). ...
Full-text available
Access to and engagement with social services among women who trade sex is essential to address issues including substance use, posttraumatic stress disorder, and housing instability. This grounded theory study aims to understand how adult women who trade sex accessed and engaged with social services. Drawing from semistructured, in-depth interviews with 30 mostly Black and White women, results suggest that women’s differing viewpoints of sex trading and experiences of racial prejudice impacted their access and engagement with services. Women’s experiences ranged from affirmed to disrespected, which influenced whether and how they chose to continue seeking services. Implications are discussed.
... Therefore, some of sex trafficking from the individual level could be understood as a limited expression of agency and control by people who-as a result of their age, gender status, race/ ethnicity, lack of support networks, and lack of educationhave extremely limited housing and employment options (Marcus et al., 2014;Warf et al., 2013). Indeed, there is significant ethnographic and qualitative research challenging the dominant "child as victim, adult as criminal" paradigm (Marcus et al., 2011(Marcus et al., , 2014. Evidence for this is that many of those who have left the sex industry report that they felt desperate, coerced, or manipulated, while they simultaneously reject the "victim" label and emphasize their agency and choice to engage in commercial sex (McMahon-Howard, 2017;Tyler & Johnson, 2006). ...
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Sex trafficking of children and youth is receiving significant attention from practitioners, researchers, and policymakers. Recognition that sex trafficking constitutes a form of child abuse has increased; however, there is still a need for a theoretical framework that provides direction on how best to intervene and conduct research into this phenomenon. In this article, we present a traumagenic social ecological framework of child sex trafficking that examines perceived social norms, societal and environmental factors, extended and intimate relationships, and personal characteristics that influence the ecological setting in which the child is embedded. Utilizing a four-tier approach, our framework focuses on how factors at each level interact and contribute to youths’ vulnerability for sex trafficking through mechanisms including social norms. This allows us to move beyond individualistic explanations of why sex trafficking occurs and consider more complex relationships. This framework is also useful to identify and group intervention strategies on the basis of social ecological level, as each level can be thought of as both a level of influence and a key point for prevention. In addition, interventions that have an impact on all levels of the social ecological framework are encouraged in order to successfully prevent child sex trafficking.
Domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) is the commercial sexual exploitation of a minor citizen or legal resident within the United States. Previous research suggests that although DMST is often discussed as though it is a uniform phenomenon, traffickers may use different tactics and exploit different victim vulnerabilities depending upon their established relationships with those who are at-risk for trafficking. The purpose of this qualitative study, therefore, is to explore the relationship patterns and dynamics that emerge between DMST victims and their romantic partner traffickers. This study utilizes the secondary case files of 38 domestic minors who were trafficked for sex by their romantic partners in one state in the United States between 2012 and 2017. The study is conceptualized according to the principles of directed content analysis and multiple case study design and relies heavily on previous research findings related to victim-trafficker relationship typology. The authors conducted two rounds of coding before applying themes to the case files. The analysis revealed that DMST victims trafficked by romantic partners are often influenced by environmental circumstances, such as gang involvement and family systems involvement. Romantic partner traffickers use specific recruitment tactics to entrap their victims, and exercise methods such as caregiving, sexual violence, and psychological violence to maintain control over their victims. Study results provide a significant extension to the anti-trafficking field's understanding of DMST and the romantic partner relationships that underpin it. The results suggest that anti-trafficking advocates should screen at-risk adolescents for gang involvement, family involvement in the sex industry. They should also educate at-risk adolescents about DMST as a potential component of teen dating violence.
Full-text available
Domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) is the commercial sexual exploitation of a minor citizen within the United States. Previous research suggests that traffickers use different tactics depending upon their established relationships with at-risk youth. The purpose of this qualitative content analysis, therefore, is to explore the circumstances and control tactics associated with DMST victimization within friend-type trafficking relationships. This analysis utilizes the archival case notes of 66 minors who were trafficked for sex by their friends in one state in the United States. Findings reveal that DMST victims trafficked by friends perceive that they have financial agency, that their traffickers use control tactics against them, and that other women are involved in their exploitation. Recommendations emanating from this study point social workers towards prevention and practice strategies that take into account victims’ specific experiences with trafficking entry and their barriers to exit.
Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) refers to sex trafficking of minors under the age of 18 and involves engagement in any sexual act in exchange for anything of value, irrespective of force, fraud, or coercion. Force, fraud, or coercion do not have to exist or be proven to consider transactional sexual acts with minors as CSEC. This chapter focuses on the characteristics of CSEC and the medical care for young people who have been trafficked for sex.
Вероника Александровна Одинокова – к. социол. н., старший научный сотрудник, Социологический институт ФНИСЦ РАН, Санкт-Петербург, Россия. Электронная почта: Ксения Юрьевна Ерицян – к. психол. н., старший преподаватель, Национальный исследовательский университет «Высшая школа экономики», Санкт-Петербург, Россия. Электронная почта: Майя Михайловна Русакова – к. социол. н., старший научный сотрудник, Социологический институт ФНИСЦ РАН, Санкт-Петербург, Россия. Электронная почта: Нина Михайловна Усачева – младший научный сотрудник, Социологический институт ФНИСЦ РАН, Санкт-Петербург, Россия. Электронная почта: Проституция рассматривается исследователями с позиций одной из основных парадигм: как девиация, как секс-работа или как насилие. Однако если речь идет о несовершеннолетних, то международные нормативные документы однозначно трактуют проституцию как форму сексуальной эксплуатации. На материалах эмпирического исследования взрослых женщин, занимающихся проституцией в Санкт-Петербурге и Оренбурге (n = 654), мы изучили обстоятельства начала занятия проституцией в зависимости от возраста начала – до 18 лет или старше. В исследование были включены взрослые женщины, занимающиеся проституцией на улицах, в гостиницах, салонах, на вокзалах и индивидуально. Влияние различных факторов на начало занятия проституцией в возрасте до 18 лет оценивалось с помощью критерия согласия χ2 Пирсона и бинарного логистического регрессионного анализа. Каждая 10-я женщина в выборке начала заниматься проституцией до наступления совершеннолетия. Первый опыт оказания сексуальных услуг за деньги респонденты, независимо от возраста начала занятия проституцией, в половине случаев оценивают как недобровольный (из-за уговоров, давления или применения силы). Основными факторами вовлечения в проституцию в возрасте до 18 лет являются семейное неблагополучие, ранний возраст пробы наркотиков и др. Мы заключаем, что группа женщин, занимающихся проституцией, неоднородна. Жизненные траектории, приводящие в проституцию детей и взрослых, могут существенно различаться. Жесткая теоретическая позиция, основанная на обобщении всех женщин, занимающихся проституцией, как жертв, «девиантов» или работниц, неминуемо игнорирует потребности и интересы части из них. В современной российской социальной политике проституция рассматривается как девиация, которая запрещена и влечет за собой административную ответственность. Общественно-политические дискуссии о мерах контроля проституции включают в себя обсуждение как легализации, так и ужесточения контроля и наказания за проституцию, однако вопросы профилактики вовлечения, а также помощи на этапе «выхода» из проституции незаслуженно исключены из этой дискуссии.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children is an extensive problem in BC and Canada, where 10% to 12% of individuals involved in prostitution are younger than 18 years of age. Commercial sexual exploitation includes prostitution, child pornography, trafficking for sexual purposes, child sex tourism, and early marriage. Children at risk include those whose families suffer from mental illness, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, or sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. Aboriginal children are disproportionately represented in the sex trade. Recruitment into the sex trade is gradual and well organized, playing on children's insecurities or weaknesses. Prevention strategies include educating children, families, teachers, and health care providers about sexual exploitation, as well as early warning signs that a child is being lured into the sex trade.