With the spurt in social media platforms and the sale of sex shifting online, more and more pimps are avoiding detection by using underground websites, social media and mobile apps to sell sex, a first-of-its-kind study has revealed.
They are even hiding their ads on mainstream websites such as Craigslist and Backpage.
“We found that pimps are exploiting the anonymity that new technology and websites allow,” said Mary Finn, lead study author and director of Michigan State University’s (MSU) school of criminal justice.
“For police, targeted enforcement of the virtual world appears to have very limited potential to deter pimps from managing and advertising the services of sex workers,” Finn added.
For the results, criminologists from Michigan State University and Loyola University Chicago interviewed 71 pimps in Atlanta and Chicago to determine how their marketing decisions are influenced by police enforcement of online prostitution.
The findings, published in the journal Victims & Offenders, suggest pimps are generally thriving by adapting to new technologies and utilizing deceptive online marketing tactics.
The pimps reported an average annual income of about $75,000, with more than one third of them making at least $100,000.
Technology has reshaped the contours of prostitution, with an estimated 80 percent of all sales of sex now occurring online.
Law enforcement has focused most of its efforts on monitoring sites used frequently by the public, mainly Craigslist and Backpage.
But most pimps said they still advertise on those sites, albeit deceptively – hiding the solicitation under the auspices of a massage or date, for example.
Specialty websites have also taken off, and online-savvy pimps use their own language, symbols and disingenuous photos to advertise their services and communicate with customers.
“They even have mobile apps now so when you’re in a city and you want to know if there is a prostitute nearby, you type in your address and it will give you the locations,” Finn said. “So the technology they are using to market the sale of sex is pretty phenomenal.”
Finn interviewed pimps in the conference room of a university building. The pimps were recruited through ads placed on Backpage and paid $60 per interview.
As long as the demand is there for illicit sex services, there will most likely be a market for it, Finn suggested.
“Targeting prostitution is going to have a minimal effect until we decide how we want to regard the sale of sex,” she noted.