Three stats and a map

Minors and sex work

A new report published in the May issue of The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science takes a critical look at the methods traditionally used to report on minors working in prostitution in the United States. According to the report’s authors, a mistaken reliance on the testimonies of former sex workers has created a false narrative in which pimps enslave and exploit vulnerable minors.

In contrast, Conflict and Agency among Sex Workers and Pimps – based on surveys of active pimps and sex workers in New York and Atlantic City – found that pimps are far less influential than usually reported. The authors believe this has important implications for anti-trafficking initiatives:

“A holistic understanding of the factors that push minors into sex work and keep them there is needed to design and implement effective policy and services for this population,” they write.

What the report found:

  • In New York, only 10 percent of minors working as prostitutes had a pimp, and just 16 percent of sex workers, regardless of age, said that person had introduced them to prostitution. Rather, peers and customers – at 47 and 23 percent, respectively – were the most common means of initiation.
  • More than 87 percent of sex workers surveyed in New York said they wanted to leave prostitution, yet none said a pimp was preventing them from leaving. Instead, 60 percent cited “changes in employment options,” 51 percent said educational opportunities kept them from leaving and 41 percent housing was the primary obstacle.
  • Although seemingly rare, abusive and coercive pimps do exist. Researchers estimate that in New York and Atlantic City, about 2 percent of prostitutes work for a “violent “ one. Furthermore, these are usually someone with either formal or informal guardianship of the sex worker.

This map from the FBI shows the top 13 high intensity child prostitution areas in the U.S.
(via the California Social Work Education Center at Berkeley.)