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“Prostitution? Not in my community!”
“Prostitution? I know it all too well.”

Either way. Let’s talk.

186 billion dollar industry worldwide. 1 million prostitutes in the US.

The United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) begins to paint a picture of what prostitution looks like:

“Pimps and traffickers sexually exploit children through street prostitution, in adult strip clubs, brothels, sex parties, motel rooms, hotel rooms, and other locations throughout the United States. Many recovered American victims are runaways or throwaway youth who often suffer from a history of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and family abandonment issues. This population is seen as an easy target by pimps because the children are generally vulnerable, without dependable guardians, and suffer from low self-esteem.”

The presence of prostitution and it’s influence may be more obvious in some communities than others. If the community is comprised of vulnerable people groups and/or poverty, it could be common place. If your community is family-oriented or more affluent, it could be harder to spot. However, victims of prostitution come from all backgrounds in terms of class, race, and geography (i.e. urban, suburban, and rural settings). It may look like the redlight district, strip club or high class sex party or as inconspicuous as a hometown bar and grill.

Who is at risk of being recruited?

The average age of recruitment into prostitution is age 14. Imagine this: A young girl, at the mall, crying at a table in the food court. Her friends have left her; ditched her for their boyfriends and she feels abandoned, angry, rejected and hurt. He sees her. Yes, him, the older, attractive man. He walks over to her and asks her why she’s crying. He’s shown interest and care for her. She tells him how she’s been left alone and he states, “I cannot believe they would ditch someone as pretty as you.” He buys her soda and begins to build trust. He listens to her. She tells him how they ditched her and that noone at home cares about her either. She had nowhere to go, so she just sat down at this table. He says, “Well, why don’t you come to this party at my place tonight. We want you there. It’s going to be chill and really fun.” That’s all it takes. He found her vulnerable and began his goal of building trust. The mall or other areas teens gather at have become prime ground for recruiting. It’s public and this approach allows for her consent. He has planted the seed of trust and he will groom her from here. Often implying that he wants to be her boyfriend, showering her with gifts and compliments as well as meeting her basic needs for food, shelter and clothing. She may even begin to think she loves him and even more, that he loves her. She trusts him, she will defend him and she will do anything she can to keep his “care, provision and protection.”

This is just one example, but the story is frequently the same whether child, teen, man or women. Find a vulnerable person and meet their needs; gain their trust, break their spirits and control with fear and other invisible bondages. Bondages such as, debt, food, shelter, brainwashing, substance abuse and addictions, threats to kill family members and/or children and severe physical abuse.


Many are not chained to a wall or kept in cages. They seemingly come and go. It appears voluntary. However, invisible bondage plays a major part in the success of a pimp and prostitute relationship. Many do not believe that they are worth anything more than the severe abuse they have endured while in the industry and are weighed down with shame, guilt and immense fear. Many believe that they actually love their pimps and owe them for the ‘protection’ that they have been provided. As well as for physical needs that have been met. Often, this scenario is thought of as better than the one they left. When this is the best you’ve experienced, you end up fighting to keep it. Often, not questioning if it is a high-risk, hostile or abusive lifestyle.

The internet and other technological advances have significantly increased accessibility to the commercial sex industry and exploitation of children, teens, women and men. It’s convenient and seemingly low-risk. For example, Craigslist and BackPage allow for easy recruitment. The USDOJ states, “‘Individuals can now use websites to advertise, schedule, and purchase sexual encounters with minors. The internet and web-enabled cell phones also allow pimps and traffickers to expand their clientele base, which may expose victims to greater risks and dangers.”

The term, “survival sex,” has been coined as when one is driven to prostitution to survive. Prostituting in order to obtain food, shelter or other basic needs. This is recognized as for of forced prostitution as well.

Pimps often are the ones who bail women out of jail when arrested. He is the first one there for multiple reasons. He does not want them to talk and expose him, he wants to establish that he always knows where they are and he is the only one who cares about them, enough to bail them out. He may use the ‘debt’ of bail against them and withhold the money they brought in that week to pay for it. Thus, continuing the debt bondage cycle.

Pimps, more than meets the imagination.

Imagery from popular rap videos, mainstream media and iconic movies have created a false image of pimps for most people. This image has contributed to the inability to recognize recruitment and pimping in our communities. You do not have to see a ‘pimped-out’ man, with swagger, dressed in a deep purple-hued suit, with a cane, gold teeth and an oversized feather-clad hat. He will more than likely look like you or me. He will mostly likely be attractive and possess charisma. He knows anyone and everyone and knows how to control most anyone and everyone. He may have a family. He could appear well liked and social. His public persona may be unsuspecting. He may be a master-manipulator, experience uncontrollable rage and triggers of trauma. He may have deep wounds that have led him to this lifestyle and action. He maybe desensitized to crime, abuse and basic human rights. He has a story too. No one wakes up one morning and decides to exploit human-kind.

He may believe that he is helping the women, teens and children he exploits by giving them shelter and food. He may believe he is their rescuer and they owe him. He may believe they love him and/or want to prostitute because he does not chain them to their beds at night.

When does prostitution become trafficking?

Street prostitution becomes trafficking when a pimp uses force, fraud and/or coercion to maintain control over the person providing commercial sexual services and in turn engage in commercial sex acts. An individual engaged in street prostitution under the age of 18, is considered a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion.

‘Often in domestic sex trafficking situations, a pimp will cause a child victim to feel dependent on him for life necessities and survival. For example, a pimp will lure a child with food, clothes, attention, friendship, love, and a seemingly safe place to stay. After cultivating a relationship and engendering a false sense of trust with the child, the pimp will begin engaging the child in prostitution. It is also common for pimps to isolate victims by moving them far away from friends and family, altering their physical appearances, or continuously moving victims to new locations. In many cases, the pimps are so adept at controlling and manipulating the victims that they are incapable of leaving the situation on their own (USDOJ).‘

The link between supply and demand. Who is buying?

Demand, always creates supply.

You may have heard the term, “John”. At it’s most basic definition, a ‘John’ is a man who is buying sex from a prostitute or sex worker. However, this is Zarzand, and we want to expand what a typical ‘John’ may look like to you. In fact, we recognize that you, reading this, may have solicited sex and you have a name and story. One that is more than meets the eye.

Some voices argue that they are the ‘John next door: your neighbor, your colleague.’ Others say, they are sex addicted, with criminal mind-sets and otherwise psychologically impaired.

According to a new comparison study by Dr. Martin A. Monto, University of Portland, and Dr. Christine Milrod, the researchers also found that men who actively seek out prostitutes, do not possess any "peculiar" qualities that would differentiate them from men in the normal population. In fact, arrested customers are only slightly less likely to be married, slightly more likely to be working full-time, slightly more sexually liberal, and slightly less likely to be White than men who have not been clients of prostitutes.”

Other findings suggest that those who were never arrested and who sought out sex workers listed on a prostitute review website, were found to differ substantially from men who do not pay for sex. A large portion of these men are married, caucasian men who earn over 120K annually, have graduate degrees and are more sexually liberal than any of the other groups in the study. Additionally, they do not exhibit any mental impairment.

Demand, always creates supply.

Dr. Milrod goes on to explain the results, "Privileged men, such as our wealthier sample of review website clients, are generally not marginalized or threatened due to their sexual behavior. In contrast, customers associated with street prostitution are likely to have fewer financial and social resources and it could be argued that these men are explicitly targeted by law enforcement in marginalized areas or transitional neighborhoods. The emphasis on teaching about 'sex addiction' and 'healthy relationships' to arrested men further supports the notion that customers of street prostitutes are endowed with some form of psychopathology that needs reorientation toward more accepted forms of sexual relations. The focus on treatment fails to separate paying for sex and being psychologically impaired."

When disconnect happens in a marriage, addiction to pornography is present, jobs are lossed, debt consumes, disease, disorders and dysfunction overwhelm, we seek comfort. Some will go to great lengths to seek these comforts and it’s proven that even in recession, we will pay to get our hair and nails done, gamble, buy alcohol, cigarettes, pornography and even buy prostitutes to ease the pain or increase pleasure.

Demand, always creates supply.

At Zarzand, we have talked with men, buying sex. Some of the stories we have heard include men who believe that these women care for them, that there is a mutual agreement that they meet each others sexual and companionship needs. Or that he provides an income for her and her children and this is not hurting anyone. Some express that they feel out of control and have arrived here by the pure need for their next high and others choose prostitution because of their sexual liberations. We have also heard heartbreaking stories of men who have journeyed from curiosity with soft porn to hardcore porn, to local prostitution to international sex tourism and beyond. Leaving wives and children behind, leading double lives and putting all they have earned, built and cared for in jeopardy. They have wept next to us as they shared their hearts and reasons for finding intimacy through the sex industry. They look like our fathers, our teachers, our military, our pastors, our leaders and our friends.

Is prostitution dangerous? Is it really hurting anyone?

“Prostitution is widely socially tolerated, with the buyers socially invisible. Even today, many mistakenly assume that prostitution is sex, rather than sexual violence, and a vocational choice, rather than a human rights abuse. Although clinicians are beginning to recognize the overwhelming physical violence in prostitution, its internal ravages are still not well understood. There has been far more clinical attention paid to sexually transmitted diseases among those prostituted than to their depressions, lethal suicidality, mood disorders, anxiety disorders (including post-traumatic stress disorder) dissociative disorders, substance abuse, and traumatic brain injury. Regardless of its legal status or its physical location, prostitution is extremely dangerous for women. Homicide is a frequent cause of death (”

Additionally, systems of prostitution are recognized as a primary cause of female involvement in the criminal justice system. 1/3 of women in jails today were arrested for prostitution; 70% of women arrested for felonies were initially arrested for prostitution (

Are prostitution and sexual abuse related?

Systems of prostitution in the United States are also closely linked to child sexual abuse. Approximately 85% of individuals in the sex industries reported history of child sexual abuse (The Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Annual Report, 1991).

“Sex Workers” vs. prostitution. Is there a difference?

Many say yes.

The term "sex worker" was coined in 1980 by sex worker activist Carol Leigh. Its use became popular after publication of, Sex Work: Writings By Women In The Sex Industry, in 1987. A sex worker is a person who works in the sex industry, including but not limited to, prostitutes, escorts, pornography models, actors who engage in sexually explicit behavior, phone sex operators, sexual role play, sex shops, web cam sex, erotic dancers, go-go dancers, burlesque, peep shows and others who provide direct sexual services, as well as the staff of such industries. The term is strongly opposed, however, by many who are morally opposed to the sex industry, Such groups view prostitution as a crime or as victimization, and see the term as legitimizing criminal activity or exploitation as a type of labor.

Some voices define prostitution and sex work by the independence of their choice to engage in sex services. 85-90% of prostitutes are pimp controlled. There is a very small margin, who are independent and identify with the sex worker title.

Each of the above headings can be expanded on exponentially. There is much to discuss and many voices to be expressed. Zarzand wants your wheels to turn and your eyes to be opened to the nearness of this issue and the relevancy to us all. It’s complex, but thank you for starting somewhere.