TRAFFICKERS

Note: We try to use gender-neutral terms for victims and traffickers. However, when we do use pronouns, we will use “she” when referring to victims since 94% of victims are female and “he” when referring to traffickers since 79-94% are male. Please keep in mind that while these pronouns are statistically accurate, they do not represent all victims’ experiences. Each case is unique and we have encountered many that fall outside these supposed “norms."

Traffickers — aka pimps — are all about money.

It can be easy to lose sight of that given how common it is for them to beat and rape their victims. This physical and sexual abuse — plus the inherently sexual nature of trafficking — leads some people to mistakenly believe traffickers are in it for sexual gratification. It also makes some people think of trafficking as a so-called “crime of passion.” 2

But it is far from it. Traffickers are calculating and manipulative. Even when it comes to abusing their victims. They are practical about it, such as choosing not to beat the victim’s face so they will still be presentable enough to sell sex. They can stay reasonable about the abuse because it is not the goal, even if some of the traffickers enjoy it. Instead, it is a tool used to “encourage” victims to succeed at the ultimate goal: making money.

That word in the last sentence — “encourage” — is used on purpose, because traffickers believe they are helping their victims. They think of themselves as teachers who understand the true way of the world and, as such, they must provide life lessons to the victim-student. 1

 

Traffickers will say the most important lesson they teach their students is to not give their bodies away for free. They argue they are showing victims how to take their power back. The abuse is just their way of “course-correcting” the victim.

As one trafficker put it, “I helped girls who no one else would. I picked up throwaways and runaways and dressed them up and taught them how to survive.” 1

This is how traffickers justify the pain they inflict. They do not think of trafficking as bad or wrong. In fact, they will argue their life lessons are what is freeing the victim, although the lessons, as well as the food and shelter they provide, are not free. That is why the majority of traffickers — up to 75% — take all the money a victim earns because the trafficker believes they are owed this for help they provide. 4

As part of their services, many traffickers — about 67% — will manage the online ads and communicate with buyers. Fortunately, in the minds of traffickers, this is a very low risk since the sex-trade business is embraced by society. They know some people view it as bad, but the majority not only want to buy sex, they envy traffickers. Just look at the entire “pimpin” culture glamorized in popular culture. 1,5

 

“If people want somebody to blame for this, they need to look in the mirror,” said one trafficker. “We all contribute to this stuff one way or the other. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be so much money to be made.” 1

This is why traffickers see their job as a safe way to make money with little chance of arrest since “no one actually gets locked up for pimping.” 2

And that’s how traffickers justify their business model, which is to purposely seek out a person to manipulate into selling sex so they can take all the money they earn, all the while physically and sexually abusing that person. In a nutshell, traffickers believe that since there is an unending demand for sex and the world accepts it, they are right to make money off it however they see fit.

  1. Reid, J. “Entrapment and Enmeshment Schemes Used by Sex Traffickers.” 2016. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Vol. 28(6) 491–511 [79% of traffickers were male]

  2. Raphael, J., Reichert, A., and Powers, M. “Pimp Control and Violence: Domestic Sex Trafficking of Chicago Women and Girls.” Women and Criminal Justice. 2010. 20:1-2, 89-104 [94% of traffickers were male]

  3. Feehs, K., & Currier, A. “Federal Human Trafficking Report 2020.” Washington D.C.: The Human Trafficking Institute [94% of victims were female]

WHILE IN THE LIFE

  • 68% said they enjoyed pimping 1

  • 0% left pimping by choice 1

  • 20% were addicted to alcohol while trafficking 1

  • 16% were addicted to drugs while trafficking 1

    • 70-84% of victims were addicted to drugs or alcohol while being trafficked 2,4

    • 27-28% of victims are forced to use drugs while being trafficked 2,3

Raphael, J. and Myers-Powell, B. “From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex- pimps in Chicago.” Report from the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Canter of DePaul University College of Law. 2010. [Conducted surveys of 25 ex-pimp sex traffickers in Chicago]

Lederer, L., and Wetzel, C. “The health consequences of sex trafficking and their implications for identifying victims in healthcare facilities.” 2014. Annals of Health Law. 23:61–91. [Conducted a focus group of 107 formerly trafficked women in “cities across the U.S.”]

Farley, M., et al “Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota.” 2011. A project of Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition and Prostitution Research & Education [Researchers interviewed 105 Native women who were prostituting in Minneapolis, Duluth and Bemidji, MN]

Varma, S., et al. “Characteristics of child commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking victims presenting for medical care in the United States.” 2015. Child Abuse & Neglect. 44:98-105 [The study compared sexually abused/assaulted adolescents to DMST youth, and the results showed 69.6% had a history of drug use]

AVERAGE AGE OF TRAFFICKER

Studies have found a wide range of average ages of traffickers, and, given this, it is best to assume a trafficker is most likely between the ages of 18 and 40, but can be any age, including a minor or over 60.

Examples of average ages found in research:

  • 37-38 average age of trafficker 2,3

  • 25 average age of trafficker 4

  • 77% of suspects were between the ages of 18 and 34 1

  1. Banks, D. & Kyckelhahn, T. “Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010.” 2011. Special Report, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. [In 2,515 suspected cases of human trafficking investigated between 2008-2010 by federally funded human trafficking task forces, 77% of suspects were between the ages of 18 and 34]

  2. Denton, E. “Anatomy of Offending: Human Trafficking in the United States, 2006- 2011.” 2016 Journal of Human Trafficking 2(1): 32-62. [Researchers looked at state and federal trafficking cases resulting in a conviction or plea bargain between 2006-2011 and found of 302 perpetrators, average age was 38]

  3. Gotch, K. (2016). Preliminary Data on a Sample of Perpetrators of Domestic Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation: Suggestions for Research and Practice. Journal of Human Trafficking, 2(1): 99-109 [Of 28 men arrested for trafficking between 2004-2015 in Multnomah County, Oregon, 37 was the mean age.]

  4. Reid, J. “Entrapment and Enmeshment Schemes Used by Sex Traffickers.” 2016. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Vol. 28(6) 491–511 [Of 79 female youth who were minors at the time of their initial exploitation in sex trafficking and who received social services between 2007 and 2012 from three agencies located in two metropolitan areas in Florida, average age of trafficker was 25]

NUMBER OF VICTIMS CONTROLLED PER TRAFFICKER

  • 4-5 — average number of victims a trafficker controls at a time 1,2,3

  • 71% of the traffickers have more than one victim they control at a time

  1. Raphael, J., & Myers-Powell, B. “From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex-Pimps in Chicago.” 2010. A Report from the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center, DePaul University College of Law.[Interviewed 25 ex-pimps in the Chicago metropolitan area in 2009-10 and found the number of women trafficked by a trafficker at any given time was 2-30]

  2. Carpenter, A. C. & Gates, J. (2016). “The Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego County. San Diego, CA: University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University.” Accessed at https:/www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/249857.pdf [In interviews with 46 incarcerated and 10 in-community traffickers, law enforcement, victims of trafficking, and school personnel in San Diego county, researchers identified 110 individual gangs in San Diego County from a wide variety of neighborhoods and racial/ethnic backgrounds that have members engaged in profiting from trafficking for sexual exploitation. They found a trafficker controlled 4.5 victims/survivors on average]

  3. Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn [In a survey of 260 DMST survivors helped at agencies across U.S., they found 3.6 was the average number of victims trafficker is controlling at a time]

TIMELINE OF TRAFFICKING

Here, just click on a picture to read — in a pimp's own words — about strategies and how long it takes to get a victim to sell sex:

First meeting
First meeting

I am looking for a girl who has low self-esteem and is desperate for attention, she is easy to spot, she is the one who smiles too quickly when a stranger shows an interest or gives her a compliment.

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In the first week
In the first week

I tell her how beautiful she is and wonder how I ever lived without her. I tell her that even though there have been other girls, she is more special to me than anyone, and I buy her gifts to prove it. After a few days, I tell her that I love her.

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In the second week
In the second week

I tell her several times a day that I love her and that I will always take care of her. I call her often to see how she is doing and do small things for her like giving her my jacket if she is cold. I tell her that I can’t live without her and that I don’t know what I would do if she left me. I convince her to skip school or not go to work so we can spend time together.

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Around the same time
Around the same time

I start doing small things to convince her she is crazy and only I can help her, like hide her stuff and then find it for her. Then I tell her how silly she is for losing things and isn’t it good I’m there to take care of her.

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In the third week
In the third week

I tell her that I love her so much, that I would hurt myself if she lever left me. I make her spend every night together and if she doesn’t, I accuse her of cheating. I say if she trusted me she would show me all her calls and texts. After a while, I just start keeping her phone. I find ways to isolate her. I start a fight before she wants to visit her family so eventually she stops trying to see them. After the fight, I cry and promise to change.

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Around the same time
Around the same time

I continue to hide her stuff and then “find” it for her, only now I tell her how stupid she is for losing things. I find things she doesn’t want to do and then start sentences saying, “If you really loved me …” to get her to do them. I start off small and innocent, saying, “If you really loved me, you’d kiss me in public.” Then keep pushing until I get her to do something a little bad, like shoplifting a candy bar. I’ll make it seem exciting and fun.

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In the fourth week
In the fourth week

I have her go with me to do something more illegal, like steal a car, only I’ll say it’s my ex’s car but really belongs to me. I’ll tell her I had her come with me to steal it because she is the only one I trust and then I will take videos of us stealing it together. I offer to hold on to her ID while we take it in case she gets arrested. But when she asks for it back, I say that if she trusted me to take care of her, she wouldn’t need it back.

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In the fifth week
In the fifth week

I tell her that I borrowed money from a man to buy her gifts and didn’t return the cash. But the man finds her incredibly attractive and if she just kisses him, he’ll call it even. When she starts to say no, I say, “If you really loved me …” After she agrees, I tell her I can’t stay in the room while she fools around because I’m too jealous. After about 10 minutes, I come back inside and then treat her to a romantic dinner. I get her to agree that fooling around with the man “wasn’t too bad."

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A few days later
A few days later

I get her to leave school on a trip out of town without telling her family. After a day or two in the new city, I make up a story about being robbed and say now we don’t have money to get home. I tell her I have a buddy in town who will give us cash, but that we need to thank him somehow. I bring up the man she fooled around with and remind her she said it “wasn’t that bad.” I tell her she just needs to make my buddy “feel like a man.” Afterward, I’d make a show of treating her right.

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ABOUT THE MONEY

AMOUNT TAKEN FROM VICTIMS

  • 69-75% of traffickers take all the money victims earn 1,2,3

    • 63% of traffickers tell victims they are indebted to traffickers because they were given food, clothing, and gifts 3

QUOTES FROM TRAFFICKERS ABOUT MONEY TAKEN

When sex traffickers when asked how much money the victim was allowed to keep, they responded: 4

“That’s funny. None.”

“Daddy handles all the money.”

“They paid me all of it. We were a family.”

“I was the money handler. Hos don’t need money.”

“I had the cash. Money is power. Hos have no power.”

“Nothing. I met all their needs. I was their doctor, lawyer, manager and financial advisor.”

  1. Feehs, K., & Currier, A. “Federal Human Trafficking Report 2020.” Washington D.C.: The Human Trafficking Institute [Based on the 362 active criminal sex trafficking cases in 2020 in which at least one method of coercion was identified, the top methods of coercion were withholding pay (75%)]

  2. Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn [Survey of 260 DMST survivors helped at agencies across U.S., 74% of victims were allowed to keep little or no money they earned]

  3. Raphael, J., Reichert, A., and Powers, M. “Pimp Control and Violence: Domestic Sex Trafficking of Chicago Women and Girls.” Women and Criminal Justice. 2010. 20:1-2, 89-104 [Between July-November 2007, 71 female trafficking victims from Chicago were interviewed: 69% of victims said the trafficker took their money]

  4. Raphael, J. and Myers-Powell, B. “From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex- pimps in Chicago.” Report from the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Canter of DePaul University College of Law. 2010. [Conducted surveys of 25 ex-pimp sex traffickers in Chicago.]

AMOUNT TRAFFICKERS “EARN”

  • $670,625 — annual income made by traffickers in San Diego, CA, in 2016 1

  • $150,000-$500,000 — Range of annual income made by traffickers in Chicago, IL, in 2010 2

  1. Carpenter, A. C. & Gates, J. “The Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego County.” 2016.  San Diego, CA: University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University

  2. Raphael, J., & Myers-Powell, B. “From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex-Pimps in Chicago.” 2010. A Report from the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center, DePaul University College of Law

COMPARING MONEY MADE IN EIGHT CITIES

In one 2014 study, researchers attempted to measure the size and structure of what they called the “underground commercial sex economy” in eight large U.S. cities by interviewing 108 traffickers and trafficking victims. The traffickers were asked to estimate both the number of victims they controlled at any given time and the average weekly revenue brought in by an “average” victim.

 

The researchers then determined the mean weekly gross cash intake per trafficker: 

Mean weekly gross cash intake per trafficker in eight U.S. cities.jpg

Dank, M., et al. “Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities.” 2014. The Urban Institute [In an effort to measure the size and structure of the underground commercial sex economy in San Diego, Seattle, Dallas, Denver, Washington, DC, Kansas City, Atlanta, and Miami, researchers interviewed 119 stakeholders — including prosecutors and local and federal law enforcement — and 142 convicted offenders]

THE SEX TRAFFICKER PSYCHOPATH

Given their propensity to manipulate and blatantly use others while not expressing guilt, it’s fair to ask if traffickers are psychopaths.

 

If two small studies are to be believed, then the answer is yes. At least, some are.

 

Psychopathy is a disorder characterized by lack of empathy, pathological lying, shallow emotions, and impulsive behavior. Psychopaths don’t feel shame, guilt, fear, or embarrassment. They will paint themselves as victims and employ “blame externalization,” in which they accuse others of things that are actually their fault. They see people as objects to be used and couldn’t care less what that person feels. They live a “parasitic lifestyle” in which they exploit others however they want, often financially. They are highly manipulative, prone to boredom, and have a grandiose sense of their own self-worth. Despite all of this, they are also very charming.

 

Does any of this sound familiar?

 

At Street Safe, we have talked with many traffickers and personally witnessed them display little empathy or emotional range. When asked if they are a trafficker, they commonly say they can “get any woman” they want because all women desire them, so why would they need to force them? When asked about physically abusing women, traffickers claim the woman made them do it, then they proceed to paint themselves as the true victim.

 

All this behavior is consistent with that of a psychopath.

 

Several researchers thought so, too. They decided to test the “sex-traffickers-are-psychopaths” theory by having incarcerated traffickers take a test called the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R).

 

The PCL-R consists of 20 items, scored on a 3-point scale (i.e., 0, 1, and 2) that measures the interpersonal, emotional, lifestyle, and behavioral features of psychopathy. The points are then added up to get a score ranging from 0 to 40. A score above 30 means the person is a psychopath.

 

One of the studies tested 28 men who were arrested for sex trafficking between 2004-2015 in Multnomah County, OR. They found 79% scored in the high or very high range with a score of 30 or greater. 2

 

A second study looked at the prison records of 22 sex traffickers in prison in British Columbia, Canada, from 1960 to 1998 then compared the traffickers to other criminals. They found 36% of traffickers tested as psychopaths — meaning they scored over 30 — compared to 20% of non-trafficker inmates. They also found that 75% of the traffickers showed psychopathic traits by scoring over 25. 1

 

Of course, there are some concerns with this data. The two studies differ significantly in the number of traffickers they found to be psychopaths — 79% vs. 36%. And each study only looked at a small sample size.

 

But despite this, it does seem safe to say that a significant percentage of sex traffickers are psychopaths.

  1. Spidel, A., et al. “The Psychopath as Pimp.” 2006. The Canadian Journal Of Police & Security Services. 4(4)  [Study looked at the prison records of 22 sex traffickers in prison in British Columbia, Canada, from 1960-1998 then compared the traffickers to other criminals to test for psychopathic traits]

  2. Gotch, K. “Preliminary Data on a Sample of Perpetrators of Domestic Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation: Suggestions for Research and Practice.” 2016. Journal of Human Trafficking, 2(1): 99-109 [Study looked at  28 men arrested for sex trafficking between 2004-2015 in Multnomah County, OR, and tested them using the PCL-R]

LIFE BEFORE BECOMING A PIMP

  • 68-85% of traffickers are male 1,2,4,5,6

  • 32-15% of traffickers are female 1,2,4,5,6

  • 61% were dropouts during high school 3,5

  • 41% were removed from their parent’s home as a child 3

  • 71% had a documented history of perpetrating intimate partner violence 3

  • 64% had a documented history of perpetrating general violence 3

  • 46% had a documented history of perpetrating rape 3

  • 60% had family members involved in the sex trade 5

  • 25% of street and online traffickers were drug dealers prior to being traffickers 7

  • 18% of traffickers continued to deal drugs while they trafficked 7

  1. Banks, D. & Kyckelhahn, T. “Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010.” 2011. Special Report, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. [In 2,515 suspected cases of human trafficking investigated between 2008-2010 by federally funded human trafficking task forces, 82% of suspects were male]

  2. Denton, E. “Anatomy of Offending: Human Trafficking in the United States, 2006- 2011.” 2016 Journal of Human Trafficking 2(1): 32-62. [Researchers looked at state and federal trafficking cases resulting in a conviction or plea bargain between 2006-2011 and found of 302 perpetrators, 68% were male (32% female)]

  3. Gotch, K. “Preliminary Data on a Sample of Perpetrators of Domestic Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation: Suggestions for Research and Practice.” 2016. Journal of Human Trafficking, 2(1): 99-109 [Study looked at  28 men arrested for sex trafficking between 2004-2015 in Multnomah County, OR, where 61% did not received a high school degree.]

  4. Reid, J. “Entrapment and Enmeshment Schemes Used by Sex Traffickers.” 2016. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Vol. 28(6) 491–511 [Of 79 female youth who were minors at the time of their initial exploitation in sex trafficking and who received social services between 2007 and 2012 from three agencies located in two metropolitan areas in Florida, 70% had male traffickers]

  5. Raphael, J., & Myers-Powell, B. “From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex-Pimps in Chicago.” 2010. A Report from the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center, DePaul University College of Law. [Interviews with 25 ex-traffickers in the Chicago metropolitan area in 2009-10 showed that 72% were male and 28% were female; 61% of the male traffickers and 71% of the women had no high school degree]

  6. Mitchell, K., Finkelhor, D., & Wolak, J. “Conceptualizing Juvenile Prostitution as Child Maltreatment: Findings from the National Juvenile Prostitution Study.” 2010. Child Maltreatment: 18-36. [In a mail-in survey of law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S., researchers looked at 711 arrests of juveniles for prostitution-related offenses in 2005. Info available for 97 traffickers showed 85% were male and 15% female.]

  7. Dank, M., et al. “Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities.” 2014. The Urban Institute [In an effort to measure the size and structure of the underground commercial sex economy in San Diego, Seattle, Dallas, Denver, Washington, DC, Kansas City, Atlanta, and Miami, researchers interviewed 119 stakeholders — including prosecutors and local and federal law enforcement — and 142 convicted offenders]

CHILDHOOD ABUSE OR NOT?

If we are to believe, even in part, that some traffickers are psychopaths, then any data acquired through personal interviews with them should be viewed with suspicion given the propensity of psychopaths to embellish. That might explain the discrepancies in the following sets of numbers, which are wildly different:

  • Either 19% or 88% experienced physical abuse as children 1,2

  • Either 26% or 76% experienced childhood sexual abuse 1,2

  1. Gotch, K. “ Preliminary Data on a Sample of Perpetrators of Domestic Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation: Suggestions for Research and Practice.” 2016 Journal of Human Trafficking, 2(1): 99-109 [Study looked at the records of 28 men arrested for sex trafficking between 2004-2015 in Multnomah County, OR, and found 19% of traffickers were abused growing up and 26% were sexually abused. In interviews with the traffickers, they also administered the psychopathy test, finding 79% scored in the high or very high range]

  2. Raphael, J., & Myers-Powell, B. “From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex-Pimps in Chicago.” 2010. A Report from the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center, DePaul University College of Law. [Researchers did personal interviews with 25 ex-pimps in the Chicago metropolitan area in 2009-10; 88% of traffickers said they were abused while growing up and 76% were sexually abused]

AGE OF ONSET OF TRAFFICKING

  • 23-28 years old on average when started trafficking 1,2

  • 4% began in preadolescence 3

  • 33% began trafficking between the ages of 14 and 17 3

  • 63% were 18 and older 3

  1. Raphael, J. and Myers-Powell, B. “From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex- pimps in Chicago.” Report from the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Canter of DePaul University College of Law. 2010. [Conducted surveys of 25 ex-pimp sex traffickers in Chicago and found traffickers were on average 22.5 years old when they started trafficking others]

  2. Spidel, A., et al. “The Psychopath as Pimp.” 2006. The Canadian Journal Of Police & Security Services. 4(4)  [Study looked at the prison records of 22 offenders Canada prisons in British Columbia from the late 1960s to 1998 and found they were 28.2 years old on average when began trafficking]

  3. Gotch, K. “Preliminary Data on a Sample of Perpetrators of Domestic Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation: Suggestions for Research and Practice.” 2016. Journal of Human Trafficking, 2(1): 99-109 [Study looked at  28 men arrested for sex trafficking between 2004-2015 in Multnomah County, OR]

TRAFFICKER HOW-TO BOOK

There are several books about how to become a trafficker, many of which are listed online at places like Amazon. We have read the majority of them for research purposes trying to find the one that is the least self-aggrandizing and most straightforward so we could advise people which one to read in case they wanted to hear about trafficking from a trafficker.  We present the full PDF of one book here, which also happens to be the book used to train San Diego police about trafficking and which is sometimes found in the bedside table of traffickers after arrest.