Prostitution in a city - night prostitute talking to potential customer
Getty Images/Vetta
By Del Quentin Wilber

They pit employees against each other to maximize performance, set financial quotas and are adapting to a rapidly changing technological landscape.

That sounds like a description of corporate executives, but it also applies to the illegal sex trade, according to a study published Wednesday by the Urban Institute in Washington. "Many pimps had a business savvy, and they knew what they needed to do to maximize profits," said Meredith Dank, the study's lead author and a former commodities analyst. "They saw themselves as managers, as business owners, as entrepreneurs."

The conclusions are based on interviews in eight U.S. cities. The sex trade in seven (Washington, Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle, San Diego, Miami and Denver) totaled $975 million in 2007, or $1 billion in today's dollars, according to the study. The eighth (Kansas City, Mo.) wasn't included in the economic analysis. Funded by a $499,000 Justice Department grant, the study relied on more than 260 interviews of police, pimps and prostitutes, the institute said.

Dank, who worked as an analyst for Tokyo-based trading firm Mitsui & Co. and in public relations for Sony before earning a doctorate in criminal justice in 2009, interviewed 73 pimps, all jailed on federal and state charges, and three dozen prostitutes in 2012 and 2013 for the 340-page report, "Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major U.S. Cities." She said that understanding the business side of the illegal sex trade should help authorities better prevent and combat it.

Traveling to Playoffs and Natural Disasters

The sex business has become more reliant on the Internet and mobile technology to recruit prostitutes and customers. More than half of the pimps surveyed said they used some form of online advertising, the study found.

More than 70 percent of the pimps said they traveled to cities hosting major events, such as the National Basketball Association playoffs, for the large crowds of men. They even visited the sites of natural disasters because those areas were often flooded with workers who had cash to spend, Dank said.

Pimps employed an average of five prostitutes, and street gangs were increasingly involved, the study found. The pimps treated women as a commodity "like gold, platinum," one said. Some pimps established quotas for their workers and others fueled competition between their prostitutes. "I had a quota of $600. If they came back with $550 or even $599, she had to just go back out," one pimp reported.

Although the economic downturn pushed down prices, most of those surveyed "shared the sentiment that a high market demand for sex always exists," the study said. Competing pimps weren't as cutthroat with each other as researchers had expected. "Many pimps viewed it as a brotherhood, a code they abided by, where they would help each other out," Dank said.

More From Bloomberg:

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Introduction to Value Investing

Are you the next Warren Buffett?

View Course »

Goal Setting

Want to succeed? Then you need goals!

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

Just when I think this website can't find any new sludge to print --- they prove me wrong by showcasing this disgusting article.

March 13 2014 at 9:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In the entertainment world, the same people would be called "Business Agents."

March 13 2014 at 6:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What manager have you ever had who took most of your income, kicked your ass for underproduction and raped you whenever he wished?

March 13 2014 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Obama's job description.

March 13 2014 at 4:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I cannot tell you how appalled I am that you are equalizing human trafficking with corporations. These so called business men abuse the women and CHILDREN they "employ" in so many ways. These so called businessmen will claim paternity of a prostitute's child and raise the child up so they know no other life but prostitution. Yeah, tell me how good they are at business when they pimp out a 3 year old.
In my opinion, this article is dangerous as it tries to make pimping into a legitimate business. Why don't you contact Courtney's House in Washington DC and discuss with Tina Frundt what it is like to "work" in a pimps corporation? THEN come back and write this article with a more balanced hand???

March 13 2014 at 1:55 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to antydragn2's comment

I agree. It's an appalling comparison. Human trafficking is deadly and devalues human life. The statement " The pimps treated women as a commodity "like gold, platinum," one said" doesn't show all the rape, drugging and beatings involved.

March 13 2014 at 2:34 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

They really needed a study to figure this out? Money provided by government grant? Anyone in control of others would be considered a manager, wouldn't they? Most managers, though, don't beat their employees or make them dependent drug addicts.

March 13 2014 at 1:47 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

These guys perform a service that service must be in demand becaues theres money in it
If the US would make prostitution leagle The pimps would be out of business the prostitutes would be safer and so would the customers. Many countries have legalized prostitution Why is the US so backward in some areas .

March 13 2014 at 12:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Merely substantiates my opinion of the majority of the American people. They need to be under the rule of a dictator for about twenty years. You know, the one that wears the red star. That would give them meaning of the word, thankful and to be more apt to appreciate what they have in this country. But , maybe not for very long from the sounds and the looks of things.

March 13 2014 at 11:43 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Are you kidding me conducting a study about pimps. Your findings are "their just like a business manager". I can't believe that monies were spent on a study about criminal behavior that degrades women and glorify the guy who forces, beats, and sometimes murders women and compare a him to a manager at a normal legal job. I would expect better from an educated person to conduct studies that could improve society or health. I'd even rather see a study on the life cycle of a dung beetle than this crap.

March 13 2014 at 9:37 AM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

sorry not like a business it is more like owning slaves. If you do not get your quota we will beat and whip you. Sorry you can not do that in business. This study is stupid it is saying that the pimps are businessmen but they are nothing but scum and when caught should be sent to prison for life and be greased up for the other prisoners to get rid of their sexual frustrations. And that is too good for them.

March 13 2014 at 9:17 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply