The Trade: Sex Trafficking in Dallas

Dallas at Twilight by Benjamin Esham

Image by Benjamin Esham at Flickr Commons

In Dallas, the youngest victims of sexual trafficking are typically found indoors—in residences or hotels—or on the street. Those who are bought and sold behind closed doors are usually advertised on the internet.

We’re talking about girls who are 12 to 17. The older trafficking victims, such as women in their 20s to 40s, are more often found in erotic massage parlors.

In a recent report on sex trafficking by the Urban Institute, a Dallas Law Enforcement Official explained that the juvenile girls are almost always controlled by an adult, no matter what the girls themselves say. (When they talk to law enforcement or counselors, some of the girls apparently say they’re “renegades,” and they’re doing it alone or because they want to.)

First of all, even if they claim to be willing, they are underage. They can’t legally consent to sex, let alone prostitution.

Second, they literally can’t work the trade alone. They’re too young to do it themselves.

“But if you actually just look at the dynamics of it, they can’t do it without help. They can’t book hotel rooms, they can’t get cards, they can’t get the credit cards to put the Internet ads out. They have to have an adult to do all of that. For certain, there is almost always an adult behind it somewhere who is controlling it.”

—Dallas Law Enforcement Official

Pimps recruit these girls in a variety of ways (and they usually are girls. The report found that most male sex workers were not pimp-controlled.) Their methods can vary depending on location and the individual girl. The pimps interviewed in the report confessed that they were very skilled about tailoring their “recruitment methods” to manipulate specific girls.

One way a lot of pimps in the Dallas area seem to prefer is to set themselves up to look like legitimate businesses—often modeling or record labels. What young girl wouldn’t be thrilled to be approached by a modeling agency, or asked to sing on an album or be in a music video? The pimp gives her a business card, and she can research the business. If he’s legitimately set up—he has a website and phone number and social media accounts—everything looks official. Why would a girl look the apparent gift horse in the mouth?

She may even do a little actual modeling or singing before he springs the prostitution thing on her.

Some girls need more of a “grooming process.”

“For some, they need the grooming process, I think that our society changes. . .but if you get a runaway from the West End, you give her a place to stay, you give her some food, you [get her to turn in] two days.”

— Dallas Law Enforcement Official

Another popular recruitment venue in Dallas is the internet:

“One of the other things is MySpace, and MocoSpace. Believe it or not, people still use them, and the ones that are using them are usually younger, and pimps are on there like crazy. We just had one two weeks ago, that we got a call from [the police department] and when we interviewed the girl, she took the laptop and opened it up, showed us, and there she was taking self-pictures of her in her thong and a little top on and I’m like, ‘Okay, who put these on?’ She says, ‘Oh, I did.’ She goes, ‘Yeah, this is a hook-up site.’ That’s what she was using as a hook-up site. So that’s another way they’re getting them. They’ll befriend them.”

These days, a girl might not see it as an immediate red flag if a guy tells her he’s a pimp. Why? Well, it’s cool to be pimp these days. She doesn’t have any idea what it really means—what the actual sex trade is like—but she’s heard all about big pimpin’ and knows all about how pimps have classy cars and big houses. It’s cool to her. Especially if he offers her a piece of the glittery pie.

In the short film “3 a.m. Girls,” a young girl asked a sex trafficking educator, “What if you know a pimp and you don’t think he’s a bad person?”

And maybe she likes to see herself as a badass “renegade.”

Some of the girls aren’t recruited from Dallas at all, though. Pimps in Dallas have a strong connection with Oklahoma City, and girls often come from there—or from cities like Miami, Atlanta, or St. Louis. Sometimes a pimp will go to a seed city himself to round up girls, but sometimes he’ll send someone in his place.

It helps if this person is a girl or woman, so she can relate more easily with the victims, and it also helps if she is already in the pimp’s control. She’s called a “bottom.” According to the report, the bottom’s job is to recruit other girls and bring them back to the pimp.

Law enforcement runs into a sticky area when dealing with bottoms. Because the woman is very much controlled by her pimp, she’s a victim. She has to do what he says, or she’ll be facing consequences. But because she’s also involved in recruiting and trading other girls, she’s an offender. She’ll probably be charged as one, if the cops can bring her in.

While I have read that in many places younger girls fetch higher prices, the report didn’t make it sound like this was the case in Dallas. It didn’t sound like pimps went after the young ones so they could make more money. For one thing, prices seemed to be pretty stable across the board, whether a john was paying for a girl or an adult.

One Dallas Law Enforcement Official said:

“I don’t know that the average trick on the street is looking. . .for a kid. When they come around the corner, they don’t care whether it is the 15-year-old woman or the 35-year-old woman. They just want to victimize whatever is coming around the corner. And we can support that through the operation that we’ve done because when we’ve put the decoy out there and made her younger, almost all the time, once they have the burden of knowledge of what the age is, they drive off. . .Literally, out of about 30 to 40 people, only two or three actually [took the bait].”

But younger girls are often more easily manipulated into the trade.


L. Marrick is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. 50% of proceeds from her book Working Girl, a memoir of her time working for a professional escort, go to sex trafficking non-profits. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @LMarrick.

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