The hustle: Economics of the underground sex economy

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The Urban Institute is out with a new research-based interactive feature that sheds new light on the scope of America’s underground commercial sex economy.

Just how big is the country’s underground commercial sex economy? Finding the answer is a critical first step for enabling decisionmakers to make informed choices about how to combat the harm that happens within this illicit market.

Meredith Dank, Senior Research Associate, Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center and her  colleagues tackled the question in their reportthe first to close the gap in what we know about the nature and scope of the commercial sex economies in American cities. Through interviews with convicted pimps, they uncovered information on how businesses are operated, how men and women enter and are recruited into the trade, and how the Internet is changing the street-based commercial sex economy.

Their research also yields the first scientifically rigorous estimates of the revenue generated in seven cities in 2003 and 2007—totals that range from $39.9 million to $290 million.

Armed with these insights, policymakers and practitioners can amplify efforts to create and implement prevention and intervention strategies that better address how individuals enter and remain working within these underground economies.

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