Urban Institute Releases New Information On Commercial Sexual Exploitation

On March 12, the Urban Institute unveiled the latest of their extensive work on human trafficking, including sexual exploitation, with the release of their report, “Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities.” The report examines several US cities, interviewing victims and others parties to sexual exploitation. It indicates that the underground commercial sex economy (UCSE) generates millions of dollars annually, but investigation and data collection remain limited.

The report focused on the role of pimps and victims and how they became engaged in sexual exploitation, the role of the internet, child pornography and the drug trade. It indicates that 85 percent of the pimps were male while 12 percent were female and the remainder of pimps were transgender and that 75 percent had a GED, graduated from high school or had some college. As far as victims of sexual exploitation, 78 percent were woman, nearly 20 percent were transgender and nearly 3 percent were male. While they interviewed only those 18 and older , the survey indicates that in some instances a person may have begun their lives in sexual exploitation as young as 11 and as old as thirty-nine, 78 percent started between the ages of 15 through 27, and eleven percent began before the age of 15. The report states, “Sex workers first started trading sex on the street for a wide variety of reasons, including economic need; homelessness; the encouragement of family members, friends, and acquaintances; a desire for social and emotional acceptance; as a natural continuation of work of other forms of commercial sex work, such as stripping and dancing and to support substance use. For many, a combination of these reasons served as the impetus to begin trading sex.”

The report makes a number of policy and practice suggestions including how to work with other countries and increased need to address related matter such as child pornography and the use of the internet. Part of their recommendations include the following.

  • “All states should develop human trafficking task forces to help coordinate law enforcement strategies statewide. At present, only 20 states have statutes that create or support human trafficking task forces. As this study indicates, pimps’ modify their travel circuits based on law enforcement attention, and effectively dismantling travel circuits will require coordinated work across cities.”
  • “Cities and counties should address sex trafficking as a complex problem that requires a systemwide response, and schools, law enforcement, and social service agencies must work collaboratively to combat sex trafficking in their communities.”
  • “Prevention campaigns must ensure that both boys and girls are educated about the role of force, fraud, coercion, and exploitation in sex trafficking.”
  • “Public schools should implement awareness campaigns. Local law enforcement should present in schools and share stories related to real cases, as well as encourage student outreach and reporting to law enforcement officials. Increasing the awareness of school officials will also help them identify at-risk or involved youth. Cross-training of local school officials and teachers and awareness raising within the schools will encourage the active involvement of school authorities in detecting possible cases of sex trafficking.”
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