Study Sheds Light on DC’s Underground Sex Industry

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credit: GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images

credit: GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images

Courtney Pomeroy, All News 99.1 WNEW (Credit: CBSDC.com) Courtney Pomeroy
Courtney Pomeroy works as a Web Content Editor at All-News 99.1 WNE...
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LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — In 2007, D.C.’s sex industry was worth about as much as its drug industry and both were valued at $103 million, according to an Urban Institute study released March 12.

The study also examined Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Miami, San Diego and Seattle, and details the economics behind prostitution in each city. Researchers interviewed pimps, prostitutes, police, the Office of the United States Attorney and a DC-based anti-human trafficking nonprofit.

They found that D.C.’s sex economy is primarily comprised of online and street prostitution, erotic Asian massage parlors and Latino brothels.

Because of the city’s location along major highways (I-95, I-66, I-270) and its proximity to Baltimore, the nation’s capital is also a significant part of East Coast sex trafficking circuits.

Online & Street Prostitution

According to the study, D.C.’s street prostitutes charge between $20 and $150 for a sex act, while internet prostitutes charge around $60 for an “in call” (customer meets the prostitute at predetermined location) and up to $250 for an “out call” (prostitute meets the customer at predetermined location).

D.C. street and internet pimps typically traffic one to four people at a time and their average weekly cash income between 2005 and 2011 was about $11,588, the study says.

But, between 2003 and 2007, the city’s sex industry experienced the biggest drop of any of the included areas, dwindling from $155 million to $103 million.

Still, law enforcement officials say that the recent economic revitalization of certain parts of D.C. have increased the number of people in the city, thereby increasing the level of adult and child sex trafficking.

Officers interviewed for the study detailed their experience with working on prostitution cases. One said that many prostitutes and clients “try to fit in with the club crowd so you would not know what they were doing.”

Another said that, while some juveniles are manipulated into the business, police are noticing more minors seeking it out themselves.

“The money is good; the only thing they can see is how much money they are making,” the officer said.

Police say minors usually advertise themselves as older women.

Erotic massage parlors

According to the study, there are no erotic massage parlors located in the District itself, but there are several in Virginia and Maryland.

While law enforcement has been proactive about erotic massage parlors, one prosecutor described the cases as “next to impossible to prosecute.”

Police have said that it is difficult to obtain information from the women working at massage parlors about whether they are in a situation of force or coercion or, rather, voluntarily engaged in sex work. They also rarely disclose information about other connected parties, making it difficult for to trace a criminal network.

As a result, “authorities have turned to a public health/public nuisance approach to combat
massage parlors by going after the landlords that rent the spaces out to the massage parlors,” the study says.

Officials can also access information about the parlors through online forums where clients communicate openly with each other, providing tips and rating the services.

Latino brothels

Latino brothels operate out of residences throughout the D.C. area, but largely in neighborhoods with large Latino populations, the study says.

Officials report that Latino brothels have been the most difficult for them to investigate “due to the largely diffuse, mobile, and ethnically- closed nature of the brothel operations.”

“They’re just really hard to infiltrate, but D.C. has a big problem with them,” says one prosecutor.

Police believe the brothel workers are a mix of voluntary prostitutes and trafficked women. And, compared to the massage parlors and street or Internet-based prostitution in D.C., officials say the brothels appear to have more of a connection to gangs, drugs, and weapons.

“While gangs have been found to be directly involved in perpetrating sex trafficking in brothels, they are also known to extort brothel owners/operators in exchange for protection,” the study says.

To read the full study, visit Urban.org.

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