Prostitution & Gangs - Investigation -

Prostitution & Gangs

Techniques for going after violent offenders



Matthew O'Deane, PhD | Friday, September 24, 2010

What's a pimp, and how do pimps control prostitutes? What's the connection between pimps and  criminal street gangs? And how do the police typically respond to this problem? There are certainly a lot of interesting questions that come up when discussing the issues of prostitution, pimping and the connection these activities have to criminal street gangs.

The Basics
A pimp is essentially a prostitute’s boss. They live off the earnings of the prostitutes that work for them. By some estimates, pimps take 60 - 90% of prostitutes' earnings. It's unclear what percentage of street prostitutes have pimps; prostitutes are often reluctant to talk to anyone about their pimps. As such, it's difficult for police to make cases against pimps without the cooperation of the prostitute.

What is known about the subject, however, is that the pimp-prostitute relationship is typically abusive, with the pimp using techniques such as psychological intimidation, manipulation and physical force to control the prostitutes he sends out to work.

Pimps recruit and socialize prostitutes into the prostitution subculture by appealing to either their desire for money or their desire for what they believe will be a glamorous and exciting lifestyle. While pimps don't usually protect their prostitutes against violent clients (because they are not in the location where the sexual acts take place), pimps protect their prostitutes from being assaulted or harassed by other pimps in other gangs.

Pimps & Gangs
A large percentage of pimps are also documented gang members, which causes concerns for police agencies. So how does pimping benefit a criminal street gang? Primarily, pimping rivals narcotic sales as a major source of funding for many gangs.

Gangs need money to survive, and money equates to power and respect. While selling drugs may be lucrative for a gang, this activity often carries significant risk as stiff legal penalties and harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws exist. However, with pimping, gang members still make money while the prostitutes themselves bear the majority of the risk.

Pimping also benefits the gang’s recruitment of new members. In addition to having women available for sex, the money brought in by prostitution allows gang members to buy cars, clothes and weapons, all of which help to recruit younger members into the gang. Pimping also increases the status of the gang within the community and with other gangs.

Pimps in gangs often mentor each other. In the gang world, the respect a member earns from his own gang (as well as from other gangs) is connected to how much money he brings into the gang and/or how violent he is. Mentoring is important to support this concept. Gangsters will often give advice to each other about how and where to pimp, as well as how to avoid police.

Police Response
The majority of prostitutes are not gang members themselves. More often than not, they start out as a girlfriend of a gangster, and are then turned out and put to work selling their bodies for the benefit of the gang. As a result, many police officers have widely different views on prostitution and what role the police should play in addressing this issue.

For example, some officers may view the prostitutes as being responsible for the problem and feel they pose a significant threat to the safety of a community. Other officers view the clients as being responsible for creating the demand for the prostitutes. Essentially, communities have different morals and viewpoints about the issue of prostitution and how it should be tackled.

Although there may be a lack of consensus about what to do to combat prostitution, most cops agree that something needs to be done about the pimps who benefit themselves and their gangs from the money that prostitution brings in.

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Matthew O'Deane, PhDMatthew O’Deane has been a police officer in California since 1992. He's currently an investigator for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office where he has worked since May of 2002. O’Deane is a former police officer, detective and sergeant of the National City (Calif.) Police Department from 1992 to 2002. He holds a PhD in public policy from Walden University and is an adjunct professor for Kaplan and National Universities and the University of Phoenix in their respective criminal justice programs. O’Deane has also written three books on the subject of gangs: the Gang Investigators Handbook (2007) from Paladin Press, Gangs: Theory, Practice and Research (2010) from LawTech Custom publishing, and Gang Injunctions and Abatements (2011) from CRC Press.


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