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In this mixed methods study of 56 entry-level pimps in Harlem, NY, we explore how pimps’ choices to use violence or control differ by where they are selling sex, who their clientele are, and whether these violent and controlling behaviors yield higher returns. First, we qualitatively explore how pimps account for each of these choices, and how each group of choices are related to the other choices. Second, we use bivariate statistical techniques to see whether there are associations in this sample between pimps’ ages and each of those decisions, and between each of those decisions and reported earnings. We find that younger pimps work with clients and sex workers in their social networks because they are easier to hold accountable, which leads younger pimps to bypass the self-reported risks involved with more violent work, but also tends be associated with lower self-reported earnings. Older pimps gravitate toward stranger clients, which involves more risk but higher earnings. Most pimps do not describe regularly using violence either against sex workers or to protect sex workers, but the use of violence is more common among older pimps. The accounts of regularly using violence with workers are not associated with higher earnings. The idea that pimps control most aspects of how sex workers labor and other aspects of their lives such as where they live are not substantiated by the accounts of the pimps themselves, but we do find older pimps describe exerting more control over sex workers than younger pimps. We discuss the implications of our findings, which demonstrate that pimps are a diverse group who see their own violence and control decisions as related to age, location, clientele, and perceived risks and rewards.
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Deviant Behavior
ISSN: 0163-9625 (Print) 1521-0456 (Online) Journal homepage:
Risky Business: Harlem Pimps’ Work Decisions and
Economic Returns
Amber Horning, Christopher Thomas, Anthony Marcus & Julie Sriken
To cite this article: Amber Horning, Christopher Thomas, Anthony Marcus & Julie Sriken (2018):
Risky Business: Harlem Pimps’ Work Decisions and Economic Returns, Deviant Behavior, DOI:
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Published online: 22 Dec 2018.
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Risky Business: Harlem PimpsWork Decisions and Economic
Amber Horning
, Christopher Thomas
, Anthony Marcus
, and Julie Sriken
University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, USA;
CUNY Graduate Center/John Jay College of Criminal Justice,
New York, USA;
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, USA;
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, USA
In this mixed methods study of 56 entry-level pimps in Harlem, NY, we
explore how pimpschoices to use violence or control differ by where they
are selling sex, who their clientele are, and whether these violent and
controlling behaviors yield higher returns. First, we qualitatively explore
how pimps account for each of these choices, and how each group of
choices are related to the other choices. Second, we use bivariate statistical
techniques to see whether there are associations in this sample between
pimpsages and each of those decisions, and between each of those
decisions and reported earnings. We find that younger pimps work with
clients and sex workers in their social networks because they are easier to
hold accountable, which leads younger pimps to bypass the self-reported
risks involved with more violent work, but also tends be associated with
lower self-reported earnings. Older pimps gravitate toward stranger clients,
which involves more risk but higher earnings. Most pimps do not describe
regularly using violence either against sex workers or to protect sex work-
ers, but the use of violence is more common among older pimps. The
accounts of regularly using violence with workers are not associated with
higher earnings. The idea that pimps control most aspects of how sex
workers labor and other aspects of their lives such as where they live are
not substantiated by the accounts of the pimps themselves, but we do find
older pimps describe exerting more control over sex workers than younger
pimps. We discuss the implications of our findings, which demonstrate that
pimps are a diverse group who see their own violence and control decisions
as related to age, location, clientele, and perceived risks and rewards.
Introduction and theoretical framework
Underlying the dominant narrative about pimps
work conduct or how they behave at work is the
idea that brutal and exploitative business models must be more lucrative (Harris 2012; Wheaton,
Schauer, and Galli 2010). However, there are many plausible reasons why brutal or exploitative
business models would not be good for business. For instance, if pimps are regularly violent with
workers then they may not be as appealing to customers, especially if sex workers have visible
markers of abuse. Further, sex workers may switch pimps if they are being beaten or overly-
controlled. Many studies have found that sex workers who work independently do so because they
CONTACT Amber Horning Department of Criminology and Justice Studies, University of
Massachusetts Lowell, 113 Wilder St., HSSB 4
Floor, Lowell, MA 01854
This manuscript has not been published elsewhere or submitted simultaneously for publication.
Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at
In this paper, we define a pimp a someone who has procured, facilitated, managed, or similarly contributed to commercial sex
transactions in some ancillary way. We discuss this studys inclusion and exclusion criteria in the methods section below. We
acknowledge that pimpis a highly contested, racialized term, but this term is more recognizable than alternatives like third
partyto readers as well as participants in this study.
© 2018 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
want to control how they operate in sex markets (Begum et al. 2013; Hoang 2015; Krüsi et al. 2012;
Murphy and Venkatesh 2006; Weitzer 2009). In short, there are many reasons to think that overly
violent or controlling models could be less lucrative or less sustainable. Further, little scholarly
attention has been focused on pimpsdecision-making. We qualitatively analyze 56 interviews with
lower-echelon pimps in Harlem to explore how they conceptualize work decisions in terms of
opportunity and risk and whether these choices vary based on the age of the pimps.
Pimpsinitial, yet fundamental decisions about the business, such as deciding about work setting
and customers, may be determined by access. According to opportunity theories, differences in
lifestyle or routine activities will influence criminal opportunity and how crime is carried out
(Cornish and Clarke 2014; Felson 1987). In Ecks(1995) general model of illicit work, he surmises
that the decision to sell to strangers or known people is an important strategy to balancing the risks
and rewards in an illicit market. Illicit merchants who sell to people they know reduce their risk of
being arrested or swindled, but it limits their customer base. Selling to strangers allows for more
access to customers, but there are more risks involved. Eck (1995) argues that these choices will
greatly impact geographical patterns of retail, including types of places used. These initial decisions
shape how pimps structure their businesses.
We argue that how their businesses are structured will vary based on the age group of the pimp.
For instance, older pimps may have more direct or vicarious exposure to outdoor business models
and so they may naturally adhere to what is familiar. Younger pimps may perform work in the
course of more youth-oriented socializing and activities, such as partying. Their style of socializing
involves more communicating via smartphones and the Internet. Their extensive online social
networks may mean that they readily have access to wide-reaching friend networks where they
may obtain workers and clients (Dank et al. 2014; Musto 2014; Venkatesh 2011). If younger and
older pimps work in different locales and with different populations, they probably have unique
interpretations of violence and control at work.
In general, the existing research about how younger people interpret risk shows that younger
people are more inclined to take risks. Risk is here defined as exposure to danger (Beck 1992;
Giddens 1991), and risk-taking is knowingly exposing oneself to these dangers. Developmental and
biological differences are thought to render younger people more impulsive and less cautious
(Steinberg 2007), which extends to young adults (age 1823) (Rolison and Scherman 2003). Based
on the literature about age differences and risk assessment, younger pimps should be more inclined
to take greater risks in the commercial sex market. Younger people in other illicit markets have been
shown to be more unpredictable as evidenced in works like Anderson (2000), where young street
drug dealers were portrayed as overly violent by old heads. In part, pimps will engage in risk
assessments about work decisions, but of course routines yield opportunities that dictate the range of
possibilities. Therefore, only these available options can be evaluated by burgeoning pimps.
As far as economic incentives in decision-making, some labor scholars have also argued that
petty commodity production in domestic units tends to have a less profit-driven dynamic and
a more income-driven one, that often eschews risk at the bottom (Carling 1986;Longand
Richardson 1978). In our sample of 1823-year-old pimps, some are financially dependent on
their families, live with parents, or even still attend high school. We will explore whether a less
profit-driven dynamic holds for young, lower-echelon pimps who have different economic
incentives than fully independent adult pimps.
The initial decisions about who to sell to and where to sell may influence not only work
conduct, but also economic rewards. According to Granovetters(1983)theoryofthestrengthof
weak ties, poor people not even having weak ties, such as acquaintanceships, with people with
higher incomes can have a negative impact on earnings. While his theory centers on differences
in job opportunities for lower- versus middle-income people based on social networks, the
concept of weak ties can be applied to those in illicit markets. For pimps, job prospects may, in
part, hinge on the socio-economic status of those in initial social networks, and then in the
expanding, work-related social network. Based on the principles of this theory, lower-echelon
pimps who sell to known clients will have the lowest economic rewards. Each work decision or
constellation of work decisions may be associated with economic outcomes.
Empirical literature review: lower-echelon pimpswork decisions
Historically, more marginalized people in the sex trade work outdoors, since it is more physically and
legally dangerous (Jeal and Salisbury 2007; Weitzer and Boels 2015). Indoor markets, such as exclusive
sex clubs or escort services, have hitherto been more accessible for those within higher strata of the sex
trade (Brents and Hausbeck 2005; Zangger 2015). The organization of indoor versus outdoor sex work
is polymorphous, depending on factors like economic strata (Chin and Finckenauer 2012; Weitzer 2010,
Whittaker and Hart 1996). Weitzer (2009:215) finds that sex workers and pimps are diverse, stratified
by income, race, drug dependency, and level of third-party involvement.These social characteristics
shape opportunities and influence how pimping is done. In response to criminal justice policy and other
factors, there has been an overall shift across social strata toward more indoor sex work (Cunningham
and Kendall 2011;Danketal.2014; Murphy and Venkatesh 2006); however, street-based work is still
quite common with marginalized populations (Davis 2017;Katona2017; Marcus et al. 2014; Stalans and
Finn 2016). Lower-echelon pimps may work in both types of locations, but their indoor market will not
be high end and may occur in more dangerous spaces. We argue that the work setting impacts not only
who is doing the work, but how it is done.
The idea that pimps are fundamentally violent has been perpetuated through abolitionist and sex
trafficking discourse, but due to the dearth of research on pimps, they have rarely been asked about
their use of violence
against sex workers, or their use of violence to protect sex workers. There are
conflicting findings from studies of sex workers about pimps with violent management styles or pimps
who use force to recruit and retain workers. Studies where self-identified victims are interviewed, such
as those in rescue institutions, find that street-based sex workers often experience physical violence
from pimps (Farley 2004; Norton-Hawk 2004; Raphael, Reichert, and Powers 2010; Raymond et al.
2004). However, there are mixed findings about pimps being violent with sex workers. As pointed out
in Marcus et al. (2014), finding out that violence and coercion is endemic to pimp/sex worker dyads
from self-identified victims and/or those who were interviewed ex-situ in rescue institutions is hardly
a surprise. In studies about mostly street-based sex work and recruitment, Marcus et al. (2014)and
Bovenkerk and van San (2011) find that most sex workers are not subject to regular violence by pimps
and that the escalation of violence described is rare. Notably, few researchers have asked pimps about
their decisions to be violent, and none have investigated if violence against sex workers is associated
with economic rewards.
Pimpspotential to use violence as a form of security to protect sex worker from clients and other
pimps is typically understood as one of the primary reasons why sex workers have pimps (Bovenkerk
and van San 2011; Williamson and Cluse-Tolar 2002). Levitt and Dubner (2009) find that sex
workers with pimps generated higher earnings, due to pimpsprotection and control. Pimps embody
a capacity of violence to protect workers, which can be as simple as being physically present and
male (Marcus et al. 2014). Dank et al. (2014) find that many pimps feel that they are essential in
providing protection for sex workers. There is little research about how pimps conceptualize
embodied or actual violence as protection or whether it is part of a successful business model.
Public displays of pimpscapacity for violence may be explained as practices of masculine street
performativity that are used maintain street credibility and reputations (Besbris 2016). Further,
this may be evidenced more symbolically through displaying thugfashion, and carrying weapons,
or hanging out with male backup (Bourgois 2002). Especially on the street level, pimps who cannot
Interpersonal violence may be literal or symbolic, and is defined as the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or
actual, against another person or against a group or community that results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury,
death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation(Krug et al. 2002:5). We distinguish between violence against sex
workers and violence against others to protects sex workers, though some pimps do both.
maintain their turf because their capacity for violence is not credible may not last long doing
street-based work (Bourgois 2002). Masculine street performativity involving symbolic and actual
violence may be quite rational in the street-based market.
The organization of illegal indoor sex work can range from loose arrangements that are
nonetheless perceived by sex workers as more professional than street-based sex work
(Murphy and Venkatesh 2006), to semi-structured and collaborative relationships between
sex workers and managers at massage parlors or strip clubs (Hoang 2015;Pérez-y-Pérez
2003), to quasi-corporate, horizontally structured, but still illicit enterprises with multiple
layers of middle management, services, and rules (Brents, Jackson, and Hausbeck 2009;Chin
The mechanisms by which pimps control sex workers on the job varies. In her study about
street-based work in Berlin, Katona (2017) finds that pimps control the length of sex workers
shifts, where they work, and how much they charge. Dank et al. (2014)interviewed73
incarcerated U.S. pimps and found that 60% impose rules such as quotas and impose restric-
tions with clientele. Some control personal and financial aspects of workerslives. However,
boyfriend pimpsor boyfriend/girlfriend dyads where the female sells sex and the boyfriend
oversees this, do not typically impose rules (Marcus et al. 2014; May, Harocopos, and Hough
2000). Reasons for pimps controlling workers can be explained as pimpsattempts to reduce
risk, such as making sure workers do not get hurt or arrested. Pimps have only been asked in
As far as procuring clients, street-based work sometimes involves work with stranger
clients (Weitzer 2009;WilliamsonandCluse-Tolar2002). However, other researchers have
found that street-based sex workers draw on social networks to help offset violence (Burnes,
Long, and Schept 2012; Dalla, Xia, and Kennedy 2003;Lewisetal.2005; Rekart 2006). In the
lower-echelon indoor market, it is unclear whether clients are most often strangers, but these
lower-echelon venues do not have the same structured procurement mechanisms as upper-
echelon indoor establishments like brothels in Nevada, rendering the work more unpredict-
able and therefore more dangerous for everyone (Brents, Jackson, and Hausbeck 2009;
Voloshin et al. 2016).
Lower-echelon pimps tend to hire sex workers who they already know (Dank et al. 2014;
Katona 2017; Marcus et al. 2014; Raphael, Reichert, and Powers 2010). One important reason
high-risk illicit labor occurs between people who are already networked is that there is
ahigherleveloftrustbetweensuchassociates(ArsovskaandKostakos2008). The idea of
trust in illicit networks may be qualitatively different based on how one socializes. For
instance, younger people have more extensive or semi-public social networks via social
media, and therefore a higher number of acquaintances to draw upon as workers or clients.
Younger pimpsextensive social networks may provide them with a sense of real or imagined
trust due to the ability to hold clients within their social networks accountable. Younger
pimps may be more inclined to do business with extended networks as opposed to with total
strangers (Curtis et al. 2008).
Overall, little is known about how different types of pimps evaluate risk and rewards
involved in their work decisions. Many researchers focus on pimpsuse of violence and
control, but little is known about pimpsreasoning. Key factors shaping differences in how
pimping is done are age of the pimp and, relatedly, location of the work. These factors
influence their everyday activities and how they learn to pimp. Using a rational choice
paradigm, pimps are likely to evaluate the risks involved in some work decisions with
potential rewards in mind. How businesses are run may be associated with differences in
economic rewards, with some work decisions or constellations of decisions being more
Sample and data collection
In order to investigate how pimps make decisions about work, 85 male pimps were recruited from
housing projects in Harlem for qualitative interviews. Basic quantitative analysis, with attention to
demographic factors and frequencies of pimpswork decisions were also performed.
We used the term pimpduring the recruitment process because other terms such as third
partyare not commonly known among this population. To qualify for this study, participants had
to have played at least an ancillary role in commercial sex, such as connecting sex workers and
clients or providing resources and support to facilitate sex work (Overs 2002). These inclusion and
exclusion criteria were expressed in clear language to make sure that participants had actually
procured, facilitated, managed, or otherwise contributed to commercial sex.
Research site, recruitment and sample selection
The majority of the interviews took place in open courtyards in a three housing projects in East
Harlem, New York, with people from these communities. The first and primary location was Taino
Towers, built in 1972. At the time, it was considered a high-standard, low-income housing project
a pilot block and a new urban model for the integration of the urban poor in major cities (Haitch
1985). The complex spans one city block and has 35-story towers providing 656 subsidized rental
units for over 3,000 residents. This $48.5 million housing project was intended as a luxury building
for the poor, with Italian tile floors, laundry facilities, and central air conditioning (the first in
New York City Housing Authority). By New York City standards, the apartments are spacious.
Despite being conceived of as a model for low-income housing, Taino Towers has been plagued by
high crime rates, including rampant gang- and drug-related activity (Bourgois 2002). Between 2009
and 2010 the rate of index crimes in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) properties in
greater Harlem increased at twice the rate of crimes in other NYCHA properties (Harlem
Community Justice Center 2011). Other research sites for this study included the George
Washington Carver House, which has 13 buildings and houses 2,723 residents, and East River
Houses, with 10 buildings and 2,435 residents.
People living in these housing projects are at high risk for family poverty and high rates of
juvenile delinquency (Harlem Community Justice Center 2011). East Harlem is one of the nations
poorest communities. According to census data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
Prevention, Harlem is rated 10 out of 10 on the community disadvantage index, which means that it
is poorer than 100% of communities nationally (as cited in Harlem Community Justice Center 2011).
In 2011 (the year of data collection), the household median annual income in East Harlem was
$34,379, which was about 63% of the median income in New York City that year (U. S. Census
Bureau 2018). However, due to the dynamics of gentrification of Harlem and the extremely high
local cost of living, even that relatively low median household income underestimates the economic
challenges of many people living in this area (Bourgois 2002; Goodman 2013). Overall, this is an area
of concentrated disadvantage, with many residents experiencing very high levels of relative
Understanding study participantssocial context is crucial because sex markets are stratified by
race and class. Sex workers are stratified by income, race, drug dependency, and third-party
involvement(Weitzer 2009). Where and how sex workers labor is determined, in part, by these
factors. Similarly, the race and class of third parties constrains how and where they work.
Historically, lower-class black males have dominated street-based sex markets, which comprise the
lower tiers of the sex market (Davis 2013; Wacquant 1998). Notably, they have not made substantial
inroads in the more profitable and prestigious indoor sex businesses, which operate in exclusive sex
clubs, escort services, massage parlors, strip clubs, and brothels. However, there has been an overall
shift in all sex markets toward more indoor work (Cunningham and Kendall 2011; Dank et al. 2014),
making race and class distinctions intrinsic to the indoor-outdoor dichotomy less clear.
This sample of pimps work both indoors and outdoors, and they are mostly from the lower
echelons of the commercial sex market. They fit Wacquants categorization of those experiencing
new kinds of exclusion at the margins, or advanced marginalization (Wacquant 2008). The levels of
deprivation experienced by those relegated to American ghettos, such as housing projects, not only
influence how they connect to licit sectors, but also how they operate in the overall commercial sex
market. The participants in this study operate in the ground-floor tier of the market, and historically
their work is street-based. Consequently, we refer to them as lower echelon pimps.
Our sample was not representative, which is typical of most studies conducted on this hidden
population. Snowball sampling was the intended strategy because it typically is used in non-
probability fieldwork studies, particularly when participants are active offenders (Flick 2009). In
this sampling technique, initial research participants (or gatekeepers) refer similar participants in
a chain of referrals. One limitation of snowball sampling is selection bias, because the pool of
participants is derived through a few initial contacts or seeds. With this hard-to-reach population,
the initial gatekeepers remained the primary sources of referral.
The study shifted to a convenience sample and an agora sample, or a sample obtained from public
open space (Horning and Sriken 2017). Interviews took place in housing project courtyards that are
akin to a town square. Residents and their friends and acquaintances socialize in these spaces.
Participants witness the on-site interviews and ask about the study. Participants who are actively
offending may feel more comfortable because they can see that other participants safely complete
interviews without being arrested.
Access to these communities was facilitated by two gatekeepers. They both lived in these housing
projects and formerly worked as pimps within families who sold sex. The gatekeepers escorted the
team through security at different housing projects (since only residents or those with permission were
allowed entrance). During the winter months, we moved indoors to two nonprofit organizations in
Because of recent changes in the sex market, such as sex trade negotiations moving from the street
to indoors or online (Dank et al. 2014; Weitzer 2009), we only included pimps who worked in the
sex trade within two years of the interview dates. Selecting this sub-sample of 56 pimps was also
important to understanding the most current conceptions of risk as it relates to labor.
Many of the pimps that we interviewed were socially networked, which was apparent from
greetings and conversations they had before, during and after interviews and the frequent referrals
given by those who completed interviews. The older pimps were highly socially networked and spent
their days in the courtyard swapping pimp stories. Some pimps worked with friends or relatives, but
the majority of them worked alone. Those that worked in groups often worked for family. The
families were more organized and had hierarchies, with the younger pimps often being low on the
totem pole.
Typically, sex worker/pimp dyads begin between people who know each other through school,
family, or work, and the younger pimps tend to begin with people from school or family settings.
This may be because many of them were recently teenagers. For instance, youths are forced to
participate in school and live with family. Being required to attend school means that most young
pimps forge their friendships in high-school hallways. These beginnings are important, especially
considering that pimps in the overall sample started pimping at age 17, on average (mean = 17,
median = 16, mode = 15, SD = 4.93). Even though younger pimps often knew sex workers, they
more often did not live with them and they would recycle them more often to keep clients interested.
During the very cold winter, interviewing outside became too hard, so two nonprofit organizations in Harlem allowed use of
interview rooms. The first was Citicare, a health center, and the second was FACES, NY, formerly the Minority Task Force for the
Prevention of HIV/AIDS.
This research suggests not only that family and friendship relations are crucial to sex work, but also
that work and affective relationships are often intertwined. This is especially true for street-based
pimps, who sometimes grow up in households where the family business is selling sex (Dank et al.
2014;Katona2017; May, Harocopos, and Hough 2000; Petrunov 2011; Raphael and Myers-Powell
2010; Raphael, Reichert, and Powers 2010). The social relationships between pimps and sex workers
can be similar to affective kinship networks; that is, people with close social relationships who live
together and merge their resources to make money (Agustín 2007; Marcus et al. 2014; May,
Harocopos, and Hough 2000). This arrangement was present in many cases. If relationships began
between strangers, the older pimps would often form pseudo-family structures with sex workers where
they live, eat and hangout together.
Pimps in this sample had an average of six sex workers at a given time. Some worked with women
of all the same race, but many sought to provide customers with some variety. Many had sex workers
who were a combination of African-American, Latina and White. Many pimps would show us
photos of their workers on smartphones. They would scroll through and describe each worker. On
rare occasions, they would have an Asian-American worker. However, the pimps that worked the
most locally (e.g., on the corner of their street) would often work with people who they knew before.
These smaller units were more often all African-American and Latina. Very few pimps dealt with sex
workers who were not U.S. citizens. According to them, if they did, this was not intentional. Some of
the younger pimps (1823years) worked with sex workers under the age of eighteen. Because these
dyads often met in high school hallways or in the neighborhood, they were in roughly the same age
group. Most of these younger pimps were not aware of the U.S. trafficking laws that classify them as
sex traffickers. A few older pimps worked with sex workers under the age of 18, but most felt they
were either too inexperienced, too difficult to take care of, or they were aware of the trafficking laws
and not willing to take the risk.
Interviews and ethics
The interviews were semi-structured. Participants were all asked certain questions such as about their
business structure and their earnings. Each interview lasted from 30 to 90 minutes. Pimps were paid
$30 for participation. Pimps were asked about how they conduct work on a daily basis and about their
relationships with sex workers and clients. Interviews were confidential and tape-recorded, and verbal
consent was given for participation. We received Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for
participants in the study to waive written documentation of their informed consent/assent, because
the main threat to these participants would be the existence of written documentation of their
participation in the study. There are no identifiers, and participants gave pseudonyms. Participants
were told about the potential risks and benefits of participation. Participants were given the option to
do interviews inside or in public space and most preferred the outdoor context.
Analytic approach
Each interview was analyzed using the Listening Guide (Doucet and Mauthner 2008). With this
approach, interviews are analyzed using a grounded theory approach (Glaser and Strauss 2017;
Maxwell and Miller 2008; Patton 1990). This is followed by several readings of the interviews using
queries such as, How do participants speak about themselves and their social worlds?and What
are the structured power relations?Next, each interview is analyzed using sensitizing concepts or
general guides (Blumer 1954; Lincoln and Guba 1985) of work conduct and risk-taking required of
this labor.
Economic variables
Pimps sampled for this study were asked how much money they make per week, and they provided
awide range of responses, from as low as $60 to as high as $110,000. (If you remove the highest
outlier, the upper-end response is $31,500.) Some pimps reported it depends,with one respondent
saying that earnings range from $5,000 to $40,000 per week. In cases where a range was reported, the
amounts were averaged. Income reported is right-skewed, so the median is the most appropriate
statistic to analyze.
We classified pimpsself-reported weekly earnings into low, middle, high, and exorbitant categories,
based on the 2012 Harlem annual median household income of $36,112 (Ye, Keefe, and Louise 2016).
The upper threshold for the low-income category is two-thirds of the local weekly median ($476 per
week). The upper threshold for the middle-class earnings category is three times the local weekly
median ($2160 per week). The upper threshold for the high category is ten times the local median
($7220 per week, with anything above that classified as exorbitant).
In all, 85 pimps were interviewed for this study. We focus this analysis on a sub-sample of 56 pimps
who actively worked in the sex market within two years prior to the interview, to understand how
work conduct is impacted by location and age and how pimp work decisions influence economics. All
the participants in the active sub-sample of 56 are racial minorities: African-American, (n = 44, 78.6%);
Latino (n = 5, 8.9%); or Other (n = 7, 12.5%). The prevalence of African-American participants is
higher and the percent of Latinos is lower as compared to the local population. All participants are
male. The median number of sex workers a pimp manages is four (range = 150 workers, mean = 6.4).
The median time spent pimping is four years (range = 125 years, mean = 5.4). Most pimps started
this labor when they were young, with the median starting age 17 (range = 1137 years old,
mean = 18.7). The median average current age is 21 years old (range = 1850 years old, mean = 24.5).
As far as recruitment, 26.8% were introduced to pimping by family members (n = 15), 10.7% were
introduced by friends (n = 6), 5.4% were introduced by sex workers (n = 3), and 53.6% self-recruited
(n = 30), with 3.6% unknown (n = 2).
The active sub-sample consisted of 38 pimps who were between the ages of 1823 and 18 pimps
who were older than 23. We label those who are from 1823 as younger pimps because this age
bracket encompasses the youngest adults who are thought to interpret risk differently (Rolison and
Scherman 2003; Steinburg 2007) and may still have more youth-oriented routines. These pimps have
more recently attended high school and have been under parental guardianship and these factors
may mean that they socialize similarly and therefore have different access to work locations and
people to work with.
Some of the limitations of this study involve potential issues with validity. One concern involves
the validity of the pimpsself-descriptions. We assumed that pimps would prettify their accounts,
but many openly discussed their failures as pimps, ranging from the inability to manage sex
workers to earning meager amounts. Further, unexpected common themes and parallel facts
emerged in strangersaccounts (see Glaser and Strauss (2017) on grounded theory and saturated
Obtaining reliable economic information from sex workers or pimps has many challenges (see
Dank et al. 2014; Edlund and Korn 2002). Here, while some participants reported a range in their
weekly earnings, many of them reported exact amounts. Many of them paid rent and had other
specific bills to pay, and they seemed quite aware of how much money they generated weekly and
monthly. Nonetheless, we try to always foreground that these are untriangulated pimp accounts of
their own earnings.
The external validity of this study is limited because it is not a probability sample. The findings
may differ in other communities in New York City or elsewhere, and they may differ in other
echelons of the sex trade, such as among more experienced pimps. Furthermore, the cross-sectional
rather than longitudinal nature of the research design makes it hard to ascertain whether some
findings, such as age-related differences, reflect true cohort differences or are merely the product of
maturation across the pimping life course. The study is only claiming to reflect or be generalizable to
the experiences of these particular 56 entry-level pimps in Harlem during the period in which they
were interviewed. We hope the findings about this hidden population might apply more broadly, of
course, and we hope we have provided enough thick description for readers to draw their own
conclusions about other contexts in which the findings might be applicable.
Figure 1 summarizes the processes sketched out in the literature review that we are exploring in the
Harlem pimpsnarratives in this study. Crucially, pimpsage groups affect their decisions about
location and clientele. Those location and clientele decisions, in turn, influence choices about pimps
use of violence and control. All those choices are made in the context of perceived risks and rewards
and also affect those risks and rewards. First, we qualitatively explore each of these themes below,
and how each group of choices affect the other choices. Second, we use bivariate statistical
techniques to see whether there are associations in this sample between those decisions and reported
Pimpsdecisions about location
A fundamental choice about pimping is where to do it. Historically, lower-echelon pimping was
more street-based. From the 1970s through the early 90s (end of the crack era), street-based
pimping was common in some New York City boroughs, such as Harlem and the Bronx. Almost
half of the pimps in this sample report working outdoors in some capacity (this percentage includes
those who do both street-based and indoor work). Many of the oldest pimps (40+ years old) recall
the bygone era of flamboyant, neighborhood pimps who were very visible on the street. In this
sample, the older pimps (2467) describe being most comfortable with outdoor work despite the risk
of arrest and violence.
Table 1 shows descriptive statistics about whether the younger and older pimps in this study vary
by whether sex work is conducted indoor, outdoor, or both. The Chi
test fails to find a statistically
To protect Sex
Towards Sex
Decides where
workers work
Decides who
clients are
Lives with
Has a “Bottom”
Age Group
Older (24+)
How are they conducting
themselves at work?
accounts of
risk and
Where and with whom
are they working?
Analyzing work decisions
through risk and reward
Figure 1. Pimpswork decisions in terms of risk and monetary rewards.
significant difference between the actual and expected counts of younger versus older pimps
locations. However, the table shows that more young pimps tend to be exclusively indoors, as
compared to older pimps, who tend to work either outdoors or both indoors and outdoors.
In the study, older pimps discuss their strategies to reduce the dangers of street-based work. One
type of strategy is having sex workers pretend to perform ordinary activities while working, such as
waiting for the train or shopping at the local bodega or corner store. Dred, 48, discusses this strategy.
Dred: They are underneath the tracks [subway] because it blocks the cops from knowing whats
going on. They might think they are waiting for a bus so it blocks the cops from seeing them
and when the cars pull up theres a lot of side streets around the way.
Pimps also try not to stand out. Jo-jo states Those pretty pimps with the nails and all is some
back in the day shit.Also, many sex workers are required to wear regularclothing. Not attracting
attention is key for street-based workers, which is distinct from the provocatively dressed sex
workers and flashy pimps depicted in the 70s through the crack era.
Another way older pimps mitigate the risks of street-based work is to choose areas where they are
known. Many work on their own neighborhood blocks or even corners. Pimping close to home
seems like a risky idea in terms of being identified by neighbors. However, in this context older
pimps can have long established street credibility, and their reputations protect the business in
various ways (see sections about work conduct)
Branching out into unknown street-based locations can be a big risk. This is especially true of
expanding to other poor areas where there may be more turf wars or in moving to higher end areas.
Prizzy, 47, talks about how he attempted to move his business to the financial district in Manhattan
to improve his economic rewards. He ended this endeavor feeling that not only was that market out
of his reach, but Prizzy describes how being unfamiliar with the big moneymarket made it even
Prizzy: They spend big money down there. But you know they usually you know they work more
on the credit cards. They want somebody to come to hotels. In Hunts Point you can come
up there you can ride your car up there and you can see Dara and Tanika and rest of them
up there. You understand what Im saying. They want something sent to the Holiday Inn.
Oh can you send me a long brown legged girl?It might be a good money deal but you
know. A little risky there. You gotta keep it simple man. Cops are still around.
Some pimps, especially younger pimps (1823 years old), find street-based work not only
dated, but too dangerous due to police and unknown clients. Dantes, 23, shares his perspective
of street-based work.
Dantes: See, thats some back-in-the-day shit like I dontI dont go, you not gonna find me on the
corner with six, seven girls or nothing like that. Nah, its just everything is off the phone,
like this is New York City so its too hot, meaning thats the police. Like [you] cant really
do that out here.
Dantes jokes about how working on the corner is dated, but many younger pimps express a fear
of street-based work due to the higher risk of arrest and also unknown clients. They did not witness
the height of the open-air drug and sex marketplaces, and being less familiar with street life, they are
Table 1. Relationship between pimpsage and location decisions.
1. Younger
(n = 38)
2. Older
(n = 17) Total (n = 55)
Indoor 57.9% 47.1% 54.5%
Outdoor 21.1% 35.3% 25.5%
Both 21.1% 17.6% 20.0%
Note: Pearson Chi
= 1.257, p-value = 0.533.
more apt to draw their sex workers and clients through their typical ways of socializing. Younger
pimps use newer technology such as cell phones and online social networking sites to conduct
business. They use their friendbase and friends of friends to get clients. This eliminates the need to
loiter around neighborhoods trying to drum up business. A portion of the sex trade is moving to
one-on-one virtual communication and online friend networks.
Pimpsdecisions about clients
Pimps decide to draw their client base from their social networks or to rely on strangers. Table 2
shows a clear difference between the clientele of younger and older pimps, with the Chi
test finding
a statistically significant difference between the actual and expected counts of younger versus older
pimpsclientele decisions. Of the younger pimps, 28 (73.7%)
choose clients from their school or
neighborhood networks.
In the interviews, they often describe choosing male peers as clients. Below, one of the younger
pimps, Travis, discusses his view of having stranger clients.
Travis: Cause when it is a circle, its better, Im tellinyou. Cause when you dealinwith a little bit
of people, is not as much risk or anythinlike that, cause its a small circle. But when you
bring dudes from the outside. Everytime I watch these cop shows they bring somebody from
the outside, or something, everything collapses.
Many other younger pimps express fear of stranger clients. Some even depict them in nightmarish
terms. Javalucci states Cause its a lotta dangerous people in this world. You know its killers,
maniacs, though you know. Its a lotta people that kill prostitutes. So just keep it like in the circle.
The younger pimps often shirk adopting a management style that requires violence because they do
not feel confident to perform this style of work. They often refuse to put themselves in physical
In this sample, pimps who work indoors do mention their concern about police, but this is not as
prevalent as compared to street-based pimpsaccounts. They are cautious of sites like Craigslist and
Backpage due to the 2010 Craigslist crackdown (Adler 2011) and subsequent crackdowns. To avoid
implicating themselves, some use vague descriptions such as woman looking for generous gentlemen.
Those who take the risk and use popular online sites describe the benefits of a larger market base and
a constant stream of clients.
In this lower-echelon sample, some younger pimps do use the more dangerous indoor spaces. They
use traphouses, or abandoned apartments. Some young people break-in to abandoned buildings or
apartments and use them for partying, selling drugs and sex or other illicit activities. Young pimps use
what they call trapsand they are careful not to alert neighbors or security guards of their presence.
Wiley, 18, discusses the dangers of traphouses.
Wiley: Just gottamake sure nobody sees you. The best ones to get is the ones on the inside of the
building. () Because people could look out so many windows in here if Im over here if Im
getting into this house somebody can see me from over here. They probably call security.
Table 2. Relationship between pimpsage and clientele decisions.
(n = 38)
2. Older
(n = 17)
(n = 55)
Clients in Social Network 73.7% 17.6% 56.4%
Stranger Clients 26.3% 82.4% 43.6%
Note: Pearson Chi
= 14.996, p-value = 0.000.
In total, there were 38 younger and 18 older pimps, but due to inconsistently missing responses, some fractions have
denominators smaller than 38 or 18, as reflected in the percentages reported throughout this results section.
Traphouses can be risky due to neighbors reporting to the police. However, younger pimps
eliminate the risk of older, stranger clients by only allowing youth from the neighborhood. Mike
J checks the ID of neighborhood youth entering the traphouse to see where he lives; this ID check is
an example of younger pimps safeguarding their businesses by selling sex to similarly aged clients
within their networks.
Mike J: I check IDs. Just to see where the person liveswere intelligent. We take you, we check
your ID. Lemme see your ID. Oh thats where you live? Write that down. Anything
happens to anybody in that house, we coming at you.
Older pimps working indoors often work in clubs, whereas the younger are more apt to have
a party at their house, their parents house or some relatively safe private environment. Both types of
indoor spaces have a good amount of built-in control because pimps are familiar with the context
and the atmosphere is more predictable. Those working in clubs often know the customers and those
who have parties invite acquaintances or friends. Pimps are usually physically present in these
contexts, but they do not generally follow sex workers around brokering deals with clients. They are
laxer in terms of who the customers are, where sex workers take clients, and what is negotiated
between sex workers and clients. Many of them feel that it is not necessary to control all details of
business transactions. This is in contrast to some street-based pimps who exert more control over
how sex workers labor, but they also negotiate a more violent work arena.
Pimpsdecisions about violence
In the sex trade, pimps often see violence as a tool they can use to protect the business in two
primary ways as discussed in the literature review, we distinguish between self-reports of violence
used against sex workers and violence used to protect sex workers. Table 3 shows a clear difference
between younger and older pimpsdecisions to use violence to protect sex workers from external
threats, with the Chi
test finding a statistically significant difference between the actual and expected
counts of younger versus older pimpsviolence decisions. Of the younger pimps, 28 (75.7%) describe
never using violence to protect sex workers, compared to only 8 (44.4%) of older pimps never using
violence to protect sex workers. Ten of the older pimps (55.5%) do describe using protective
Some older pimps describe their use of protective violence in the context of seeing themselves as
individual bodyguards, protectors, enforcers, there in case something goes down,whereas if the
younger pimps respond at all to risks to sex workers, it would be with friends or a posse.At the
extreme, pimps respond to threats by clients using weapons. Pimps or affiliated males protect their
businesses by embodying meanness, toughness and aspects of the badass embodiment shown in
masculine street performativity, as described in Katzs(1998)Seductions of Crime. Often, this requires
only the threat of aggression. Percy thinks his sex workers view him as a black, ugly, mean, tough
motherfucker,which epitomizes the idea of the badassand may be derived from the discourse of
racialized tropes used to describe pimps. The feeling of being badass may be raced, classed, and
gendered, because this embodied violence may be necessary only in dangerous urban areas, which
often are impoverished. Some think that this type of embodiment is their primary worth as pimps.
Table 3. Relationship between pimpsage and decisions to use
violence to protect sex workers.
1. Younger
(n = 37)
2. Older
(n = 18)
(n = 55)
No 75.7% 44.4% 65.5%
Yes 24.3% 55.6% 34.5%
Note: Pearson Chi
= 5.223, p-value = 0.022.
For many, it is only one aspect of pimping, with other forms of self-worth centering on street
credibility and being successful hustlers.
Some street-level pimps, who are often older, are aware of onlookers viewing their ability to embody
violence. They feel the need to convey their capability to the community. Embodied violence is crucial
to maintaining street credibility. This is described as important to many types of street-based illicit
work. For instance, in Bourgois (2002) ethnography of East Harlem crack dealers, he finds that the
street lingo for having the gumption for violence as having juice.Dred, an older, seasoned pimp,
discusses the necessity for this type of embodiment.
Dred: Its like being smooth, but being firm at the same time. Showing them I got the muscle
because everybodys observant, everybodys looking.
Many pimps protect their businesses from clients by simply being present enough that clients can
see them or know they can appear at any moment. Sometimes, they have established the street
credibility as described by Dred. Typically, this threat or potential for violence is enough to maintain
security. Of the older pimps, 14 (82.4%) have stranger clients, as compared to 10 (26.3%) of the
young pimps. This difference may have to do with older pimps having the ability to embody the
violence and control necessary to manage unpredictable clients and greater skills at attracting
stranger clients. They see it as necessary to protect the business from clients who may try to cheat
sex workers or harm them physically or sexually. Anton, 47, talks about these dimensions of security
doing street-based work. During work hours, he is physically present and even talks to clients to
ensure that all parties trust in a smooth exchange. He claims there have never been physical or sexual
conflicts with his clients. Anton feels assured that his presence alone assuages clients, and he claims
this is why he does not need to carry a weapon.
A few street-level pimps, particularly those who work in more dangerous areas, may resort to
extreme levels of force to secure their businesses. Baby Sean, 26, works in unfamiliar areas, so he
carries a weapon with him at all times. When he was asked if he ever needs to use it, he states,
Never really had to use it. Once they see the barrel its time to give up. But if they dont have money,
I have to beat the shit out of em, so it was a couple a guys where I had to pistol whip em, but
nothing serious.If a dangerous situation arises, such as clients being violent with sex workers, some
pimps use male back up to help them, or this type of security is hired. These pimps have other males
display violent embodiment or act violently for them. Dantes says he hires people to just take care
of that.He discusses the unpredictability of clients in the sex trade and the need to be aware of
dangers and provide protection (even if that protection is hired).
Dantes: If the dude has to get beat, dude gets beat. Dude has to get shot, gets shot. Stabbed?
Whatever happens. Depends on the situation. I had a girl whos go far as much as a guy
actually kidnapped a girl before. You know what I mean, trying to get me to pay money to
him. To get her back. Theres all types of shit happens in this game, you just gotta be
prepared for it. You gotta be a step ahead of it. You know what Im saying.
There is a major distinction in the use of violence between street-based and indoor pimps. For street-
based pimps, embodied violence can be a source of status, including street credibility. Off-the-street pimps
with known clients rarely have to perform violent work,whereasthosewithstrangerclientsmustatleast
embody violence, with some relying on other males for backup and even weapons. When younger pimps do
sell to strangers, they often express fear of bodily harm. For instance, Orlando has his sex workers meet
unknown clients in hotel rooms. His fear of violent clients is so great that he secretly waits in the shower,
clutching a firearm, and listens to the interaction. Other younger pimps do not even bother to wait close by.
Instead, they have sex workers carry weapons.
However, as previously mentioned, many younger pimps bypass violence by actively avoiding
violent risks for example, by allowing only young men from their social networks as clients. They
rely on their reputations within real and virtual social networks to protect their businesses.
Advertising on social networking sites such as Facebook and facilitating sex work in more controlled
settings, such as house parties, allows them to avoid the dangers of the streets, and unknown older,
male clients in particular. They are available by text or phone or they are physically present, if
perhaps occupied, at such sex parties, but overall their violent embodiment is rather disembodied.
Younger pimps often disengage from violent aspects of this labor, and some describe wanting to quit
if they have experienced this type of risk.
Table 4 shows a difference between younger and older pimpsself-reported decisions to use
violence against sex workers, with the Chi
test finding a difference between the actual and expected
counts of younger versus older pimpsviolence decisions that is statistically significant (at α= 0.10).
Of the younger pimps, 24 (70.6%) describe never using violence against sex workers, compared to
only 6 (37.5%) of older pimps never using violence against sex workers.
Over half of the pimps in this sample (n = 30, 60%) report never being physically violent with sex
workers. A violent business model, in which pimps describe using violence regularly with sex
workers, is infrequent (n = 8, 16%). However, a quarter of pimps describe being occasionally
violent with sex workers (n = 12, 24%). Their primary explanation for this violence against sex
workers is when they feel that sex workers are being disloyalin various ways. Usually this is when
pimps feel that sex workers are cheating them or otherwise being disrespectful.Baby Sean
discusses his ambivalence and rationalizations about his own such use of violence, which, he
emphasizes to the interviewer, he realizes flouts norms about what is goodor ethical behavior.
Baby Sean: It was times Im sorry, but I have to put my hands on her and uh you know, I had to
let her go because, you know, it wasnt working and the money situations, when you
fuck with that money, sorry again but its times when you get outta hand and put your
hands on females, which I know isnt a good thing, but yeah.
Pimps in this sample who are occasionallyviolent with sex workers talk about this being
necessary to their job. They are apologetic, like Baby Sean, or they emphasize that the violence is
not extreme, and more about sending a message that they are in control. For instance, Javalucci says
he occasionally slaps his workers when they talk slickor try to verbally disrespect him. The
message is often about warning sex workers not to cheat them of money, or other business-related
matters. However, they also describe doing this to assert authority and demonstrate control when
challenged. This style of violence is generally about maintaining control in the work setting.
However, there are a few whose level of violence is particularly brutal. Buddy Love, 21, admits
that he regularly slaps his sex workers. He describes an incident where a sex worker hit him with
a bottle and he beat her so brutally that she has to be hospitalized. Self-reports of this kind of
continuous violence are uncommon, and violent business models cannot be easily explained as
beneficial from a business perspective.
In fact, many pimps in this study have trouble making sense of this style of pimping. They
emphasize that they are opposed to, and even have disdain for, pimps who are regularly physically
Table 4. Relationship between pimpsage and decisions to use violence
against sex workers.
1. Younger
(n = 34)
2. Older
(n = 16)
(n = 50)
No 70.6% 37.5% 60.0%
Yes 11.8% 25.0% 16.0%
Sometimes 17.6% 37.5% 24.0%
Note: Pearson Chi
= 4.963, p-value = 0.084.
We emphasize here that these accounts of the use of violence were not triangulated with accounts from sex workers or other
independent data on site. Further, the pimps, many of whom were apologetic about the violence against sex workers in
particular, might have been under-reporting their own use or threat of violence to the academic interviewers, since they clearly
felt such violence was socially unacceptable to varying degrees. Our estimates of violence are higher than other pimp studies
(such as Dank et al. 2014), but there still might be a tendency in any such study for self-reports of socially unacceptable
behaviors like violence to be underestimated.
violent with sex workers. For instance, Kelvin, who has pimped for 20 years, discusses his views of
how to treat sex workers. You cant assault them. You cant belittle them. You cant make them feel
like a ho. You gotta make them feel like the most gorgeous motherfuckinwomen in the world.
Similarly, Blue Goose feels that pimps who are regularly violent with sex workers are abusers and
not pimps.He describes the quintessential image of a pimp that relies on tropes of black ghetto
masculinity, and is similar to the caricature of pimps depicted by some advocates and the media. He
does not specify whether he has been affiliated with this type of pimp or whether he acquired this
narrative from the media. Either way, he makes a point to emphasize to the interviewer that he is not
this type of pimp.
Blue Goose: Beat em and belt and all that, man, you aint no pimp. Youre an abuser. You abusing
women and bruises and stuff all on they body. They ask you to look out for em. I dont
go around like these beating like some of these pimps they go around, they got guys
kidnap these girls, 17, 16 years old. ()
Many older or more seasoned pimps discuss the difference between smooth and rough pimps.
They use various terminologies to describe this distinction, but the gist is that smooth pimps use
verbal finesse as opposed to violence. Often, these smooth pimps do not respect pimps who resort to
violence with sex workers or clients; they view them as unprofessional. Pimps who are violent are
thought to lack not only finesse, but also intelligence. Leon discusses different types of pimps.
Leon: You cant get money and mix violence at the same time. You dont forget that.
Sometimes you can, sometimes you cant. You got some tough pimps and you got
some, you know, some smooth pimps. You know what Im saying. You got some
pimps that always think about making a dollar and they cut they loss, and you got
some pimps thats rough and they kill a bitch. They run up, they hit you in the head,
theyll shoot you, theyll do whatever.
Interviewer: So, what kind are you?
Leon: Me? Ha. Im more of a, I like to play chess. Right? So, Im more of a person that
outthink you like three steps before. So. I done already outthought you like three steps
before,cause I dont always expose all my shit. And that one I cant even explain to
you. But you know I just stay three steps ahead of the game, so Im more the thinking
type pimp. Im a smart pimp. Haha.
Some pimps work in families who sell sex, and these family businesses are sometimes more
violent. Spankysmotherisasexworker,andhisunclesruntheoperationinasmallertown
north of New York City. They have a large house where all of the workers live, and they have
control over and work in a main intersection of town. Spanky was expected to carry on the
family legacy. He describes himself as the worst pimp in the world.He says that his uncle gave
him three of his most difficult girls. Spanky emphasizes that his uncles were very ruthless,and
he does not agree with how the business operated. He was eventually fired. Spanky feels that he is
too softto be a good pimp.
Similarly, Frederick worked for his cousin, who runs an operation in multiple New York City
boroughs. After school his cousin drove him to a location where he monitored the operation, which
included carrying a gun. Frederick, 18, talks about how he quit pimping because he could not handle
the violence he witnessed toward sex workers. However, in this study most pimps who learned
violent models from families reject this blueprint and some quit pimping altogether. Violent family
business models did not often get passed on to the next generation.
A violent model is not advocated by all of the family-run businesses. Some families have the
opposite business strategy. For instance, Jason, who started pimping at 16, discusses what his uncle
taught him about pimping and violence.
Jason He said dont ever put your hands on a girl. That is something that you dont do. You cherish
[them] like a diamond. Cause thats what females are, they worth a lot of money. Between
they legs, they mind, how they give it up, they persons. He just taught me the ins and outs of
the game, man.
Several pimps describe how irrational being violent with workers is from a business perspective.
One pimp even makes an analogy about selling apples, and marvels about why a businessman would
bruise the very apples that he is trying to sell. Alternatively, the younger pimps, especially those who
collaborate with friends and sell sex in party settings, do not tend to be physically violent with
workers. Wendel, 23, says I dont believe in violence. Id rather talk to you about a problem. If you
cant that means youre not mature enough for me to be dealing with.This group of younger pimps
describes physical violence as an uncommon business practice.
Many pimps described little to no violence between each other. They often viewed their work as
ahustleand respected one anothers turf. Some of the older pimps described scenarios where other
pimps would steal their workers. For the most part, they viewed this as the sex workers fault for
engaging or as their fault for not being able to keep workers. On the well-known strips, such as
Hunts Point in the South Bronx, there is competition between pimps. When we asked Chicago Blue
about competition between pimps in this area, he replied Of course, theres competition. Theres
a lot of hoes on the track. Thats why you gotta get the best hoes. The ones that is in shape. Keep em
in shape. Make sure they jog. They work out. Make sure they eat right and they sleep right.
However, even these outdoor workers claimed that violence was something that rarely happened
between pimps. Buddy Love discusses competition as a natural part of any hustle, but he emphasizes
that there is no realbeef between pimps.
Buddy Love: Yeah its competition. Some of us know each other. You know its like this the game
Iminitsits like hustling with drugs but its like its just with females. Cause if I guy
like what he got the first hes gonna keep coming back for her. You see what Im
saying. And its like hustling like if you see somebody selling drugs you only can pay
them respect. They see what you doing it either you gonna be mad at me or you gonna
like me. You gonaa respect what I do you know. So thats how that go. I never you
know I never ran across no beef over a female. I had words like how you gonna steal
my you know my bitch? How you gonna steal my whore? Listen man its a business.
Its competition.
Overall, pimps do not discuss physical violence as often defining work relationships between
pimps and sex workers. The pimps who are physically violent with sex workers construct this type of
work as necessary to maintaining loyalty, so this style of violence is rooted in their inability to
maintain control in other ways. Many pimps, older and younger, make a point of emphasizing in
their accounts of violence that frequent violence towards sex workers is not a beneficial business
Pimpsdecisions about control
As shown in Table 5, there are strong differences between older and younger pimps in many control
decisions, such as older pimps being statistically significantly more likely to pick where sex workers
live, to pick where sex workers conduct their business, and to manage sex workersmoney. Younger
pimps in this sample are more likely to pick clients, but the difference is not statistically significant.
Overall, the older pimps tend to exert more control than younger pimps in sex workersbusiness
In this sample, some older pimps also exert control through their daily living arrangements with
sex workers. Unlike most younger pimps, many older pimps have the means to provide housing and
food for sex workers (n = 32, 57.1%). Some pimps claim that this is a more sustainable arrangement
because workers are cared and this makes them stay longer. Jason has a revolving door policy that
is, many of his sex workers leave and return.
Jason: Its revolving doors. She leave. She come. She says Oh I know a friend that was trying to get
into the business. She aint got no money. She broke. She needs a place to stay.I say Tell
her come on. Its a family.() A lot of females need places to stay. The economys
fucked up.
When pimps and sex workers live together, they also eat meals together, divvy up chores and have
close relationships. Pimps with this management approach describe having real sexual and emotional
relationships with some of their workers (see Horning and Sriken 2017). They often adopt quintessential
masculine roles by acting as husbands or fathers. Anton talks about his role as a daddy.
Anton: Take them ladies out for their night and show em, go out to eat or something, go out to
dance. Thats why you go out and wine and dine em, thats what they want. They want you
to wine and dine em, take care of them, buy them clothes, buy them shoes, take care of
them. Set them up with a nice little place in a hotel or whatever, apartment. And once you
to do that, theyll take care of you.
Other seasoned pimps report having strictly business relationships with sex workers. They do not
live with them, but they still provide food, shelter, clothing, and others things, such as paying to get
their hair and nails done. But these outside activities are portrayed as boosting morale and building
camaraderie and the reward is having more loyal workers. Morale boosting, funactivities inside of
work are also common in licit organizational settings.
Younger pimps, especially those who organize parties, almost never describe organizing their
businesses to include living with or providing housing for sex workers. This is often not possible
because they still live with their parents, or they cannot afford it. Many younger pimps do not
monitor how sex workers work, except to set up the party or initially broker arrangements with
friends. They often chose the initial work location and they may choose clients, but this is because
they work in known indoor spaces with familiar people. Further, these pimps often have no idea
what sex workers are doing in their daily lives. These looser standards may be because they sell sex in
more casual atmospheres and they also swap out sex workers regularly to keep the interest of young
partygoers. This party business model is more flexible and does not require much control beyond
hosting the parties and inviting guests.
Within this sample there is only one case of a young, but seasoned pimp describing controlling
his sex workers in extreme ways to protect his business. Dr. Love, 21, has been pimping since he was
12. He takes sex workersSocial Security numbers, and they sign contracts detailing what he calls the
business arrangement,including a clause about which drugs they can take. This interview is
atypical in this study, but it is the kind of case that the dominant anti-trafficking discourse about
pimps touts as typical.
In over two-thirds of the cases examined, pimps draw co-workers from existing social networks
(n = 38, 67.9%). One-fourth of collaborative relationships are with a bottom, or a pimps sex worker
who manages a lot of the business operations. Several pimps, mostly older, collaborate with their
Table 5. Relationship between pimpsage and control decisions.
1. Younger 2. Older 3. Total Chi
Pimps Pick Clients 56.8% (21/37) 44.4% (8/18) 52.7% (29/55) 0.391
Pimps Pick Location 75.7% (28/37) 100% (18/18) 83.6% (46/55) 0.022
Pimps Pick Where Live 16.2% (6/37) 72.2% (13/18) 34.5% (19/55) 0.000
Pimps Manage Money 5.6% (2/36) 33.3% (6/18) 14.8% (8/54) 0.007
bottoms, who help them run the business. These women have different roles, ranging from a wife
to one of the guys.These bottoms often control other sex workers and sometimes embody the
control required to protect the business. Rip talks about his bottom.
Rip: Well, a bottom bitch is, like, the bitch that, like, stays under you. Thats your little eyes and all
that type of stuff. You feel me? Thats like your second head. You know? The person under, the
person under you. And then, after that, everybody under everybody under her is just
straight up nobodies.
Sometimes, the bottom stops doing sex work and becomes a more equal business partner. A few
bottoms even take over third partiesbusinesses. There are a few cases where younger pimps are afraid
that they have lost control to a bottom. Nelson, 21, talks about how control over his bottom changes.
Nelson: The only thing I really dont like is that now, like, when they do it Im not there. Like when in
the beginning I was there with her, so I knew exactly what was going on. ()So,its like now
its more of a worry, cause Im not there to know exactly how everything is playing out.
Younger pimps do not often describe having bottoms, which in part may be because they have
difficulty managing them. In this case, Nelson did not even bother to show up to work with his sex
workers, and his giving up control of day-to-day operations caused him to lose his business. In this
case, his bottom may have become the new pimp or madam.
However, many pimps have bottoms in order to more effectively control their businesses. Many
pimps feel that having someone on the job who monitors workers and manages clients and sometimes
money is the best way to run a smooth business. The bottom may embody control for the pimp and he
may not even need to be physically present, which also reduces his personal risk of arrest or violence.
Prizzy talks about how his bottom keeps control over the business, which reduces his need to watch
everything so closely.
Prizzy: Im in the area but I dont have to watch them like that. You understand. She (his bottom)
out there she keep her focus on it also. ()Its her job. () You have to have another set of
eyes out there.
In summary, the choices of location and clients may be more contingent on opportunities and
everyday routines of pimps. Pimpsdecisions about how space is used and how to behave at work are
weighed in terms of risks with the idea that choices will improve the business, including yielding
lucrative outcomes. The dominant discourse emphasizes larger monetary returns for pimpsviolent
or controlling behavior, so we evaluate these concepts.
Pimpseconomic rewards related to their business decisions
Overall, the median yearly income of pimps in this sample is $16,500 (the data are right skewed, so
this measure of central tendency may be most accurate). This is indicative of this being a lower-
echelon sample. In terms of age, younger pimps have higher rates of being lower earners. 90% of
younger pimps (ages 18 to 23 years old) earn low to middle class earnings. These categories are based
on 2012 Harlem annual earnings (see Methods section for full explanation of earnings categories). In
contrast, almost half (42.9%) of the older pimps (over 23 years old) earn middle class earnings and
28.5% report high class to exorbitant earnings. In general, younger pimps do not yield as much
money as older pimps. There are statistically significant differences between earner groups (low,
middle, high and exorbitant) with higher rates of younger pimps being in lower earner categories
(Fishers exact test (FET), p = 0.004).
Table 6 shows the percentages of types of earners(low, middle, and high class and exorbitant)
business decisions (work conduct, co-workers and clients and location) as well as significant
differences between these categories. A two-sided Fishers exact test (FET) is used to identify
significant associations between each of the categorical variables. The high class and exorbitant
earners as compared to the low and middle-class earners have higher rates of protecting workers by
using or threatening physical violence with clients, and this was statistically significant (100% and
66.6% v. 21.7% and 36.4%; FET, p = 009). The rates of being physically violent with sex workers are
highest for high and exorbitant earners (75% and 33.3% v. 9.5% and 8.3%; FET, p = .052). This
finding is only marginally significant, and it is important to note that over half, 56.1%, of the total
sample reported never being physically violent with workers. The pimp business decisions related to
control (how sex workerswork and how they live outside of work) did not show statistically
significant differences between types of earners. The low to middle class earners had higher rates
of picking clients, but this was not significant (60.9% and 45.5% v. 25% and 33.3%; FET, p = .499).
Across groups of earners, most of them chose the exact location where sex workerswork. The high
to exorbitant earners had higher rates of deciding where sex workers lived, but this was not
significant (75% and 66.7% v. 30.4% and 18.2%; FET, p = .133). The high to exorbitant earners
had higher rates of managing sex workersmoney, but this was only marginally significant (50% and
33.3% v. 13.6% and 0%; FET, p = .060. In this lower-echelon market, using violence both to protect
workers and sometimes to control sex workers appeared to be the most important kind of work
conduct in terms of earnings.
There were many significant differences in terms of who pimps chose to work with. The low and
medium earners had higher rates of having a bottom sex worker, and this was statistically significant
(65.2% and 63.6% v. 0% and 0%; FET, p = .017). The high and exorbitant earners always had
stranger clients and this was statistically significant (100% and 100% v. 34.8% and 36.4%; FET,
p = .017). Pimpschoices in who to work with are key to earnings.
In terms of choosing to work indoors, outdoors or both, it appears that the low to medium
earners had higher rates of working indoors and this was statistically significant (63.6% and 66.7%
v. 25% and 33.3%; FET, p = .033). The lower earnings may be related to younger pimps choosing
inside locations for parties and also generally having clients within their social networks all of which
have higher rates of lower earners.
Table 6. PimpsBusiness Decisions and Relationships to Economic Rewards.
Annual Income
1. Low
2. Middle
(n=3) Total=41 FET
To protect 21.7% 36.4% 100% 66.7% 36.6% p=.009**
Against Workers p=.052
Yes 9.5% 8.3% 75.0% 33.3% 17.5%
No 66.7% 66.7% 0% 33.3% 57.5%
Sometimes 23.8% 25.0% 25.0% 33.3% 25.0%
Control Pimps choose
Clients 60.9% 45.5% 25.0% 33.3% 48.8% p=.499
Location 73.9% 90.9% 100% 100% 82.9% p=.479
Living 30.4% 18.2% 75.0% 66.7% 34.1% p=.113
Manage money 13.6% 0% 50.0% 33.3% 15.0% p=.060
Location of work
Indoor 63.6% 66.7% 25.0% 33.3% 58.5% p=.033*
Outdoor 9.1% 33.3% 25.0% 66.7% 22.0%
Both 27.3% 0% 50.0% 0% 19.5%
People they work with
Clients p=.017*
Strangers 34.8% 36.4% 100% 100% 46.3%
In their social network 65.2% 63.6% 0% 0% 53.7%
Bottom 65.3% 63.6% 0% 0% 53.7% p=.017*
The variables that are related to type of earner indicate that many aspects of a more brothel-style of
management (or corporate-style) are not often associated with higher earners in this Harlem market.
Because these are lower-echelon pimps, indoor locations do not equal more professional indoor spaces,
but rather are often makeshift spaces for parties, lower-end clubs or rent-free spaces, such as abandoned
buildings. In terms of choosing who to work with, those lower earners had higher rates of having
a bottom or co-manager. This finding is counter-intuitive, but may indicate that those who rely too much
on bottoms lack street credibility, and some may lose control over their businesses to bottoms. This type
of hierarchy would appear to be more corporate, but if pimps are using bottoms to embody violence and
control on the streets for them, they may not attract higher-end workers or higher-paying clients. Also, in
some cases, these could be boyfriend/girlfriend dyads, who may be just tryingto make ends meet. Indoor
locations, such as brothels, do not tend to target the vulnerable per se, and they often prefer experienced
workers (Weitzer 2009). However, in Harlem, lower-echelon pimps may be more willing to do street-
based work. A brothel-style of management would be more apt to include clients who are strangers (not
friends or people from the block), and the higher earner pimps more frequently chose stranger clients.
In terms of work conduct, some form of protection is important to most types of sex work (Weitzer
2009). In this lower-echelon market, reports of being prepared to use violence with unruly clients occurred
more frequently with higher earners. In brothels,badclientsarethrownoutandbanned,andonly
sometimes is physical violence used (Hoang 2015). Apparently, the capacity to go all the way in the form
of protection is quite important in the lower-echelon market, where everything is less controllable. These
pimps are more readily finding higher-paying strangers on the streets as opposed to indoors, and street-
based work often requires at least the ability to embody violence. The lack of an actual organization and
official business may make it more difficult to controlworkers.Basedoninterviews,pimpsdiscussusing
occasionalviolence to ensure loyalty, but there maybemanyotherreasonsforthis.Pimpsphysical
violence towards workers is described as being used occasionallyacross all groups of earners and at
greater frequency with higher earners. This is similar tofindingsaboutstreet-basedpimplabor(Levittand
Dubner 2009;Norton-Hawk2004;WilliamsonandCluse-Tolar2002). As previously mentioned, many of
the indoor workers are younger pimps who seem to shirk all types of violence and avoid these types of work
risk. Interestingly, pimpsself-reported control of how sex workers do their jobs is not significantly related
to earnings. The majority determine where sex workers sell sex. There were differences in whether pimps
broker deals with clients, but this was not related to type of earner. The only marginally significant control
variable was managing sex workersmoney. Higher earners may keep more of sex workersearnings. The
control variables do not show statistically significant differences between earner groups. Perhaps in the
more extreme lower-echelon market, the basic decisions such as where to work and who to work with are
most crucial. Last, the self-reported capacity for violence is undeniably important to money-making. This is
probably due to working in more unpredictable street-based markets.
Conclusion and discussion
This study provides a framework to understanding lower-echelon pimpswork decisions. Work
conduct has been explored in studies on sex markets and trafficking (e.g., Petrunov 2011; Stalans and
Finn 2016), but this study shows how younger versus older pimps differently take advantage of work
opportunities and how they assess work risks. Younger pimps report working with clients who they
know because they are easier to control due to having common affiliates. Because of this, they often
describe bypassing violent work and the risks involved. In contrast, older pimps gravitate toward
stranger clients, so they incur more risk but have higher economic rewards. Because younger pimps
rely more heavily on acquaintance networks to find customers, they describe experiencing less work
danger, but also lesser economic rewards. Older pimps have more steady employees, but their work
settings are much more dangerous because of the location and client base. According to the higher
earners, who are more often the older pimps, they need to embody violence due to higher risks, and
they have higher rates of controlling sex workerslabor and their home lives (although these
variables of control are not significantly related to being a higher economic earner).
How pimps chose people to work with, including clients and sex workers, appears to be pivotal to
lower-echelon work arrangements. Like smugglers, human traffickers, and other third-party workers,
recruiters often select co-workers and workers whom they know. In this case, they are networked by
homophily, based on their residing in housing projects that are largely homogenous in terms of race
and class (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, and Cook 2001). Their reliance on existing social networks is
similar to that of other social actors in illicit markets, such as those studied by Arsovska and
Kostakos (2008), for whom trust is crucial to illicit dealings. Based on the above accounts, it is
likely that many of these lower-echelon pimps come from similarly disenfranchised backgrounds.
The difference between the reported earnings ofthe younger and older pimps is striking and indicates
a real difference in yearly earnings. There are conclusions to be drawn about this difference. The younger
pimps largely draw their client base from acquaintance networks. This finding is consistent with
Granovetters(1983) theory of the strength of weak ties, where being poor and only having members
of ones extended social network with similar incomes has a negative impact on earnings. While his
theory centers on differences in job opportunities for lower-versus middle-income people based on social
networks, the concept of weak ties can be applied to those in illicit markets. For pimps, job prospects
may, in part, hinge on the socio-economic status of those in initial social networks, and then in the
expanding, work-related social network. Older pimps do initially have similar social networks, but one
difference is that they mostly deal with stranger clients. They expand their customer base by working
with stranger clients (Eck 1995) and this broader client base gives them an economic advantage.
Young pimps may also be less profit-driven than older pimps due to structural factors. As Levitt and
Venkatesh (2000) found in their study of the necessary premium above legitimate work to motivate
a young person to deal drugs, economically dependent young people in informal economies have very
different economic incentives than independent older people. Our sample of 18-to-23-year-old pimps
vary along a continuum of economic independence young pimps who are living with parents or
extended families are not as driven as economically independent adults to fight for better markets or
shares. We found that some are supported to some extent by parents or families and can skim what
money they can from their own impoverished networks and are happy to get extra spending money.
Some are even still primarily students and not workers who need to make strictly rational decisions
about cost and benefits. This is unlike an adult pimp, who must make enough to support himself, to
present as an adult in public and, opportunity cost-wise, must make more than he would make in
legitimate work that gives him standing in the community and does not raise the risk of police.
Similarly, young pimps who work in party settings like the traphouses discussed above may be more
motivated by non-economic incentives, such as socializing and the euphoric thrills of sex parties. Their
sex workers often are members of existing peer networks, and these social groups enjoy a controlled party
setting. These pimps do not impose many rules on sex workers, perhaps because rules are antithetical to
these carnivalesquezones. Mikhail Bakhtin (2009) uses this term to describe the culture of the market-
place, which he describes as escapes from the usual officialway of life,which may be a relevant way to
understand some sex markets. Escapes and rules do not go hand in hand. This may explain why younger
pimps are more laissez-faire when it comes to discussing control of sex workers and their businesses.
Social arrangements shape business plans, and sometimes even form them. Young pimps discuss
intentionally avoiding risks, but their less risky work environment also may be due to the social forums
where they prefer to sell sex. This confirms that younger pimpseveryday lives and routines and the
opportunities that arise in those settings do shape how they conduct business. In part, this supports the
opportunity theories as being key to how lower-echelon pimping is done (Cornish and Clarke 2014;
Felson 1987). However, the existing research that younger people are more apt to take risks (Rolison and
Scherman 2003; Steinberg 2007) is not supported. In fact, the younger pimps in this sample could be
defined as risk averse.
Older pimps describe being much more engaged in physical aspects of the work, including
embodied violence and control. In part, this is because they often do traditional street-based work,
but it may also be related to an old schoolstyle that was learned through being in the market for
a long time. For older pimps, enduring bodily risks and facing dangers is a rational part of their
lucrative strategy.
It is difficult to say if distinctions between younger and older pimps are tied strictly to maturity or if
they reflect a split between old-school and new-school pimps. It is impossible to know from a cross-
sectional research design if younger pimps are dabbling in the market and will move on. There are
a few seasoned younger pimps, and they do engage in more risk, which may indicate that low-risk
pimping is only for younger dabblers. On the other hand, these young people may be slated to become
the next generation of pimps, so their work style may be a snapshot of new business models.
The dominant assumptions about pimps being routinely violent and controlling are challenged by
the pimpsreported perspectives on their own use of violence against sex workers, with only 16%
reporting regularuse of violence and 24% reporting occasionaluse of violence. Over half report
never being violent with workers, and wholly violent business models are shunned by many pimps and
deemed as unprofessional approaches. It is important to note, however, that it is not the routine use of
violence that is typically used for control in illegal enterprises. Instead, control is achieved by the threat
of violence. As such, the pimps may be underestimating the violent atmosphere they create if they
avoid discussing their threats of violence and only countactual use of violence. Routine threats of
violence combined with occasional use of violence still amount to creating a violent work environment.
In the literature on brothels, most managers claim to abstain from violence (Casey et al. 2017;
Law 2016; Morselli and Savoie-Gargiso 2014); however, it is important to note that in Brents,
Jackson, and Hausbeck (2009) managers made a point to distinguish themselves from establishments
where violence is used. In doing so, they are implicitly acknowledging that violence is used in other
brothels, which is a similar pattern among pimps in this study who take great pains to distinguish
themselves from other bad, violent pimps. Those who admit being occasionally violent with workers
frame this as necessary to maintaining control; however, many pimps in this sample would criticize
this as a poor business strategy and the result of a lack of verbal finesse. These types of pimp
accounts challenge that notion that routinely violent business models where physical force is the
norm are generally considered the most lucrative or successful business strategies among pimps.
The self-reported decision to be regularly violent with workers is not associated with economic
returns. This management approach is not substantiated as lucrative in this sample. This is counter to
the dominant discourse. However, pimps consider having the ability to be violent in order to protect
workers crucial, which may have to do with higher levels of danger on the streets or lower-end indoor
settings. Also, these pimps have less control over the environment and may have to resort to extreme
threats or actions. Being able to respond violently to client threats is associated with higher economic
rewards. Further, this is consistent with other findings that pimpsability to protect is one of the
primary reasons that sex workers have pimps (see Williamson and Cluse-Tolar 2002).
As discussed in the methods and violence subsection in the results above, it is important to emphasize
again that these accounts of the use of violence against sex workers were not triangulated in this study
with interviews with sex workers or other independent data on site. However, this studysdataabout
violence were triangulated in the analysis of coercion and control in Marcus et al. (2014), in which these
accounts were found to be both internally consistent and largely consistent with accounts of pimp
violence from the perspectives of sex workers and other actors in this echelon of the local sex trade.
Without such verification in this study, though, it is not entirely clear how much these discussions of
violence reflect pimpsactual use or threats of violence, versus how much they reflect what the pimps might
have wanted interviewers to think about their use of violence. As discussed in the results section, if there
were a systematic bias in our data, it is that pimps might have been under-reporting their own use or threat
of violence to the academic interviewers, since pimpsinterviews clearly suggest they felt such violence was,
as Baby Sean said, not a good thing.However, our estimates of violence prevalence in our sample are
actually much higher than estimates from the few other in-depth pimp studies. For example, Dank et al
(2014:1779) found that only 15% of pimp respondents reported using violence to control sex workers, as
compared to 40% of pimps in this study reporting using violence occasionallyor frequently.Such
comparison suggests some concurrent validity to our violence estimates. Nonetheless, there could still be
The idea that pimps control most aspects of how sex workers labor and other aspects of their lives
such as where they live and how they spend money is also challenged. Some older pimps did discuss
adhering to this model and had more brothel or corporate style with high levels of control over sex
workerslabor practices. There is much variation in terms of controlling behaviors, but they are not
significantly related to economic rewards. In middle and upper scale indoor settings, a certain amount of
control over workers is expected to maintain a more corporate feel (Buschi 2014; Casey et al. 2017;Krüsi
et al. 2012;Law2016; Mossman 2010) and may be viewed as a good business practice. This was also
deemed as important by many lower- echelon pimps, but micro managing workers and taking care of
them was not a major theme in their discussions of their decisions. Maintaining control in a regulated,
upscale indoor setting is quite different as compared to lower-end indoor locations, and strata probably
impact whether controlling work behaviors are associated with monetary success.
For future research, both parties in pimp/sex worker dyads should be interviewed to understand
how each views the dangers and rewards of working in the sex trade. Examining management styles
from different angles may yield interesting information about distinctions in business models and
how these models connect to economic earnings. Pimps in different echelons of the sex industry
should be studied both quantitatively and qualitatively to further explore the extent to which the
findings in this study can be generalized to other contexts. Younger pimps should be followed
longitudinally to determine if their work style and business decisions shift over time or if they persist
in similar style, which is largely risk averse and disembodied from physical aspects of the job.
Understanding the trajectory of pimping over the life-course may yield important information about
how management styles develop and change over time.
Notes on contributors
Amber Horning, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the School of Criminology and Justice Studies at the University of
Massachusetts, Lowell. She spent almost a decade researching violent crime . For the last eight years, she has been
involved in field research studies of commercial sex markets, human trafficking and unaccompanied minor refugees.
She has published in journals such as Homicide Studies, Sociological Perspectives, and The ANNALS of the American
Academy of Political and Social Science.
Christopher Thomas is a PhD student in the Department of Criminal Justice at the CUNY Graduate Center/John Jay
College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York.
Anthony Marcus is a Professor of Anthropology at John Jay College of the City University of New York. He has
along-term research interest in masculinity and race-caste-color oppression in the United States. His current research
is on domestic minor sex trafficking, pimps and third parties to commercial sex, forced marriage, and vulnerable and
stigmatized youth. He also works as a consultant and expert witness in federal sex trafficking trials, and has published
on racially selective identification and prosecution of sex trafficking in the United States and the problems with
contemporary standards for Daubert qualification of expert witnesses.
Julie Sriken is a PhD student in Vanderbilt UniversitysCommunity Research and Action program in the Department
of Human and Organizational Development. Her background includes research and counseling focused on the
relationship between victimization and inequality. She has contributed to studies of intimate partner violence
among same sex partners, and microaggressions based on race and sexual orientation. In her professional work,
Julie provided crisis counseling to survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault, both on a hotlines
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... Within academia, why sex workers quit has been documented by researchers, such as Baker, Dalla, and Williamson (2010) and Oselin (2014), but there have been only a few studies about domestic minor trafficking victims (e.g., Clawson & Goldblatt Grace, 2007) or pimps quitting the sex trade (i.e., Davis, 2017). There are many studies on the perspectives of minor sex trafficking victims (e.g., Dank, 2011;Horning, 2013;Marcus et al., 2014;Williamson & Prior, 2009) and a few about pimps (e.g., Dank et al., 2014;Horning, Thomas, Marcus, & Sriken, 2018;Stalans & Finn, 2016). The time frame or the historical moment and current legal/policy changes, e.g., the War on Drugs, the Crack era, or SESTA/FOSTA contextualize accounts of quitting. ...
... Davis (2017) applies how ex-pimps never fully leave the "pimp" mindset. In part, this is due to pimping being a high-point and a glamorized part of their lives, which is a well-documented pull (Dank et al., 2014;Davis, 2017;Horning et al., 2018) and this is reflected in Horning et al.'s article where the "bad ass" me theme or the theme where pimps reflect on pimping as their "golden years" or as "high status" is prevalent in the majority of accounts. ...
... One concern involves the validity of the pimps' self-descriptions. We assumed that pimps would prettify their accounts, but many openly discussed their failures as pimps, ranging from the inability to manage sex workers to earning meager amounts (Horning, Thomas, Marcus, & Sriken, 2018). Further, unexpected common themes and parallel facts emerged in strangers' accounts (see Glaser and Strauss (2017) on grounded theory and saturated themes). ...
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Pimps quit their illicit work in sex markets for many reasons, such as job dissatisfaction, having a child, going to prison, and feeling guilty. In this study, we used a mixed methods approach to explore pimps’ interdiscursive reasons for quitting. Our analytic sample focuses on 43 self-identified former pimps, who were interviewed in situ in housing projects in Harlem, New York. Based on existing desistance research, we hypothesize that pimps would express external or internal themes of quitting. External reasons involve changes due to the environment, (e.g., job dangerousness), events (e.g., going to prison) or opportunities (e.g., getting a legitimate job). Internal reasons center on change from within, such as in their morality. First, we qualitatively identify these themes and how they are connected within the accounts. Many accounts are interdiscursive, i.e., with multiple themes or some themes occurring across categories, such as having children and moral reasons. Second, we use non-metric, Multi-Dimensional Scaling (MDS) to triangulate and systematically assess our qualitative findings. We find adequate support for this External to Internal typology, with 67.5% of the cases being classified as dominantly within one theme. Using non-metric MDS is a novel method to triangulate this type of qualitative data.
... One concern involves the validity of the pimps' self-descriptions. We assumed that pimps would prettify their accounts, but many openly discussed their failures as pimps, ranging from the inability to manage sex workers to earning meager amounts (Horning, Thomas, Marcus, & Sriken, 2018). Further, unexpected common themes and parallel facts emerged in strangers' accounts (see Glaser and Strauss (2017) on grounded theory and saturated themes). ...
... The study shifted to a convenience sample and an agora sample, or a sample obtained from public open space (Horning & Sriken, 2017;Horning et al., 2018). Interviews took place in housing project courtyards that are akin to a town square. ...
Full-text available
This study analyzes semi-structured interviews with 85 pimps in New York City to explore how pimps discuss their economic pathways-i.e., how their pimping leads to distinct types of work outcomes and how they discuss their associated feelings and attitudes. We compare younger (18-23) to older (24-67) pimps, anticipating that younger participants would be more adaptive and produce discourse less entrenched in outsider thinking. Pimps' movements between licit and illicit work worlds mirror those of drifters (Matza, 1964) and align with Murphy and Robinson's (2008) concept of maximizers (i.e., economically benefiting from both work worlds simultaneously). Younger pimps, despite their at-risk status, boast of several distinct advantages in moving between worlds, such as flexibility and technological savvy. How pimps' experiences in both worlds connect to insider (mainstream orientation) or outsider discourse (oppositional orientation) is also examined. Many older pimps who identify as 'hustlers' express oppositional discourse that aligns with Sandberg's (2009) 'gangster' discourse. Those pimping to survive tend to express 'oppression' discourse. Despite their at-risk statuses, many younger pimps demonstrate a hybrid (insider/outsider) orientation, which is one of versatility where participants describe an ability to master both illicit and licit worlds or at least maximize their opportunities by participating in both worlds.
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Weitzer (2009) notes that the sex work employment triangle involves three groups: workers, clients, and various third parties; the latter includes pimps, facilitators, brokers, managers, and others who help organize or facilitate sex work. Our research focuses on the third group, and in particular on managers who work in legal or licensed sex industry businesses. We gathered data in 2013 from 43 managers of escort agency and massage parlor businesses in five Canadian census metropolitan areas. Following Weitzer’s (2009) recommendation, managers were interviewed as part of larger study that included people who sell and who purchase sexual services. We argue that one central responsibility of managers is to prevent and intercede in conflicts between workers and clients, as well as between workers, and that managers play an important role in the occupational health and safety of sex industry populations. These findings make a novel contribution to the sociology of service work literature; they are also important in the context of recent legal changes in Canada which made commercial-sex businesses and third-party material benefits from them, illegal.
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Pimp and sex worker business arrangements often originate in private social spheres. In sex markets, the overlap between work, leisure, and even family spheres can foster a complicated nexus between intimacy and economy. Zelizer (2000) explores the sociology of purchases of intimacy using three approaches: “hostile worlds”, “nothing-but”, and “connected lives”. We expand on her typology and test pimps’ perspectives about the rules of intimacy with sex workers. In the hostile worlds paradigm, if intimacy is allowed in the economic realm, there is contamination and chaos ensues. In the nothing-but paradigm, these spheres blend quite normally in the course of market activity, but there are uneven power dynamics. Connected lives are where intimacy and economy coexist, but without chaos. Through on-going negotiations, some deeper interpersonal connections form. Pimps’ perspectives about the nexus between intimacy and economy map onto Zelizer’s threefold typology. In housing projects in Harlem, 85 pimps were interviewed in situ about their labor, including their approach to relationships with sex workers. The crux of this nexus lies in the relationship between a pimp and his 'bottom.' This slang term is used to describe their main sex worker. We find that pimps articulate all three management approaches; however, their approaches are not static. For instance, their intimate feelings for bottoms can develop over time, or their romantic relationships can transform to friendship or to a distant business relationship. Their management decisions concerning the rules of intimacy appear to influence their economic returns. Based on comparisons of their median weekly earnings, the conventional adage that “intimacy corrupts economy” is not supported, and those pimps who are more intimate with workers generate higher earnings.
Most writing on sociological method has been concerned with how accurate facts can be obtained and how theory can thereby be more rigorously tested. In The Discovery of Grounded Theory, Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss address the equally Important enterprise of how the discovery of theory from data-systematically obtained and analyzed in social research-can be furthered. The discovery of theory from data-grounded theory-is a major task confronting sociology, for such a theory fits empirical situations, and is understandable to sociologists and laymen alike. Most important, it provides relevant predictions, explanations, interpretations, and applications. In Part I of the book, "Generation Theory by Comparative Analysis," the authors present a strategy whereby sociologists can facilitate the discovery of grounded theory, both substantive and formal. This strategy involves the systematic choice and study of several comparison groups. In Part II, The Flexible Use of Data," the generation of theory from qualitative, especially documentary, and quantitative data Is considered. In Part III, "Implications of Grounded Theory," Glaser and Strauss examine the credibility of grounded theory. The Discovery of Grounded Theory is directed toward improving social scientists' capacity for generating theory that will be relevant to their research. While aimed primarily at sociologists, it will be useful to anyone Interested In studying social phenomena-political, educational, economic, industrial- especially If their studies are based on qualitative data. © 1999 by Barney G. Glaser and Frances Strauss. All rights reserved.
Pimps involved in illegal street prostitution in the U.S.A often proclaim that ‘pimping is for life’ and that pimps ‘pimp or die’. But lifelong adherence to these mantras by individuals is called into question when pimps leave The Game and become ex-pimps. Based on in-depth interviews with nine pimps, mostly retired, this paper will examine the motivations and incentives offered within respondents’ narratives about their exit from this criminal career. Exceptional time could be granted to the various highly nuanced issues within this phase of pimping, but this paper is intended to provide a brief overview of retirement through the presentation of concise data, analysis and discussions covered in the narratives of ex-pimps. Factors ranging from incarceration to debilitating drug addiction were offered as motivating factors for retirement by those who did not ‘choose’ to leave The Game, and for those who felt their exit was voluntary, their decision to retire was influenced by a range of factors from risk of incarceration to emotional stresses. Ultimately these ex-pimps reached a point where the costs of engagement in The Game, whether experienced or anticipated, outweighed the benefits of remaining active.
Attachments between sex workers and procurers in street-based prostitution are commonly described as the loverboy phenomenon in the academic and public discourse, when pimps pretend love in order to seduce and convince young girls or women to do sex work. In this paper, I provide an in-depth analysis of intimate relationships between Hungarian sex workers and pimps in an outdoor prostitution area in Berlin based on ethnographic fieldwork. I show a different narrative of intimate relationships between pimps and sex workers by looking at cases of women who started to work in prostitution as adults, and love relationship with pimps was not part of their recruitment. However, I explain that intimate partnership is the general pattern of pimp–sex worker dyads in this field as working agreements between pimps and sex workers often turn into intimate ties while living and working in an isolated, strongly sexualized environment, dominated by mainly male pimps who maintain their powerful position also by means of strong intimate bonds. I highlight that sex workers perceive very differently the role of pimps and intimate relationships, but all of them experience a high pressure to follow this pattern, especially if they want to be integrated in the social network. All in all, I show that love and intimacy play central role in the social structure of street-based prostitution, and the relationship with pimps also deeply affects the self-presentation and the agency of women in sex work.
Pimps, or male managers of female sex workers, are commonly represented in popular culture as hypermasculine and as a ubiquitous part of sex work. However, there is little empirical scholarship on pimps or the construction of their masculinity. Drawing on ethnographic and interview data, this article demonstrates how pimps produce a “revanchist masculinity” that seeks to reclaim power from women and establish status over other men. Pimps are suspicious of sex workers’ motives and deny them decision-making power and profit sharing—processes that highlight how work practices can structure gender identity construction.