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Estimating the Unlawful Commercial Sex Economy in the United States

Award Information

Award #
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2010, $499,036)

Research is desperately needed to 1) study the size and scope of the unlawful commercial sex economy (UCSE) in the U.S. and explore the extent to which the UCSE and other commercial sex activities are related. This study relies on a multi-method approach using both qualitative and quantitative methods to collect data and estimate the size of the unlawful sex economy in the U.S and assess the ties across different types of activities in the UCSE. The proposed technique builds upon the theoretical and technical foundations used to estimate the size of other illicit economies and adapted to extant research on the activities that comprise the other unlawful commercial sex economies (sex trafficking, prostitution, and child pornography). This technique represents a top-down approach that will use data on total cash spending derived from federal data bases to first estimate the total unlawful economy and then determine the portion of the unlawful economy due to unlawful commercial sex, illegal weapons, illegal drugs, or other means (including both legal uses and other illegal uses such as under-the-table employment). The Urban Institute (UI's) Justice Policy Center (JPC), in collaboration with the City University of New York John Jay College of Criminal Justice, will test this method in six cities over a five year time period (2002 to 2007). To examine ties across different activities in the UCSE, the team will conduct a network analysis informed by interviews with convicted traffickers, prostitutes and pornographers at the federal, state and local levels and police investigators. These interviews will also explore the known nature and extent of the UCSE as well as probe for any connections between traffickers, pornographers and prostitutes as well as connections between the illegal sex, gun and drug markets. The result of the quantitative and qualitative data collection efforts will be an aggregate estimate of the unlawful economy and its sub economies supported by qualitative insights and experience of local law enforcement and convicted offenders. The proposed research design will provide answers to the following questions: 1) How does the UCSE operate? and 2) What is the role of social networks in the USCE? ca/ncf
Date Created: September 20, 2010