MSU professor's study reveals sophistication of country's pimp business

FBI arrests 12 accused pimps, rescues 19 children in Metro Detroit last month

DETROIT – Last month in Metro Detroit, the FBI arrested 12 accused pimps and rescued 19 children who were forced into prostitution as part of a national human trafficking ring. A professor at Michigan State University said there is a lot more work to do, insisting that the business of pimping is profitable, growing and becoming harder for police to infiltrate.

A study was conducted to interview pimps about how they conduct their business online, and it was very informative.

MSU is known for its gorgeous campus, agricultural class work and sports teams, but Professor Mary Finn, of the School of Criminal Justice, is giving the school worldwide notoriety for her paper on pimps.

The business of booking and protecting prostitutes is the subject of Finn's three-year study. She interviewed 71 pimps she found online in Atlanta and Chicago and paid them $60 each to get the lowdown on one of the world's oddest professions.

Finn learned that pimping online is a big business. The average income of a pimp is $75,000 per year, with many making even more than that.

"A third of them made over $100,000 a year," Finn said.

She also discovered that online sex trafficking is much harder for police to find. The study indicated that prostitutes are moving off the street corner, with 80 percent of today's sex sales taking place online.

Customers find and pay for services from their smartphones, tablets or laptops. Pimps use the internet to find men and women willing to sell sex and customers willing to buy it, with much less risk of being busted.

"The internet does provide the ability to do a lot of things without taking the risk of it being exposed," Finn said.

A deep dive into the research shows problems for police, who often find runaways and missing children by surfing online prostitution ads. Now, pimps said they are posting fake photos that allow customers to choose general types, not specific people, which is driving the prostitution business deeper underground.

"They became more deceptive in how they advertised," Finn said. "They would change words they would use so law enforcement wouldn't identify what they were selling."

Sex traffickers still advertise heavily on known sites, like Backstage and Craigslist, but hide the "sex for sale" under ads for massages, escorts or companions. The pimps told Finn that they are now on mainstream dating sites like Tinder, Grindr and Match, looking for new customers and potential prostitutes.

"The sale of sex for money, prostitution, has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years," Finn said. "What technology has permitted is for that sale to occur in an online environment maybe more easily that it can occur in a physical space."

What surprised Finn most about the study is that technology and profits are beginning to sophisticate an old underworld industry.

"Some were indeed very coercive, violent and very degrading in how they were exploiting another person, and they didn't care," Finn said. "But there were others who had more of a business-type relationship that I would say was of mutual respect."

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About the Authors:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.