Prostitution & Gangs

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.

But how can police arrest these pimps? In cases where arrests were made, it was often the result of a good interview with a prostitute that enabled the officers to go after the pimp. Here are some of the questions a police officer may want to ask when talking to prostitutes to make good cases against their pimps.
•    Is your pimp in a gang? How do you know?
•    What are some known monikers/gang symbols used by your pimp?
•    Have you ever worked with girls of other gang members through sharing hotel rooms or rides?
•    Has your pimp ever received/placed calls to other gang members to discuss business related to pimping and prostitution?
•    Has your pimp ever threatened you with his gang? For example, if you don’t do something the gang will come after you?
•    Has your pimp ever used other gang members to help him pimp? For example, looking after you on the blade, testing to see if you’re out of pocket, or for hooking up rides/rooms/trips?
•    Has your pimp ever used prostitute earnings to post bail for other gang members?
•    What did your pimp have you call him? For example, “daddy,” “king” or a specific gang moniker.
•    Do his tattoos have a gang reference?
•    Have you ever been taken to gang functions or parties?
•    Were you ever ordered to work for another gang member?
•    Did another gang member ever collect money you brought in?
•    Was another gang member ever present while you were working?
•    Were you ever driven to work with other girls and other gang members?
•    Have you heard threats made by the gang against any other girls if they didn’t comply?
•    While you are working, does your pimp ever work with other gang members?

The main strategy police use to control street prostitution is enforcing laws prohibiting soliciting, patronizing and loitering for the purposes of prostitution.

Street prostitutes can be valuable informants to police about other crimes, and the threat of enforcement gives the police leverage for information. As most prostitutes consider the costs of being arrested as a business expense or an inconvenience–and not as a significant deterrent–other strategies may be used to gain information from them. For example, threatening to notify appropriate government agencies is a strategy that has sometimes been used to compel a prostitute to quit or provide valuable information.

Many street prostitutes receive government aid in one form or another (e.g., for housing, dependent children, unemployment insurance and/or disability), but wouldn't qualify for such if they reported their prostitution income. In some cases, police have shared arrest and intelligence information with government agencies providing the aid. The threat of losing government aid might compel some prostitutes to quit and provide information about their pimps and the gangs they associate with.

For this approach to be viable, adequate social services must be available to help them. For example, prostitutes often require drug and alcohol rehabilitation, mental health treatment, transitional housing, case management, peer support/mentoring, child care, job training, health care, psychological counseling, transportation and employment assistance.

Some communities offer a service-and-support network through diversion programs, and some even offer these programs on the street, with no formal connection to the criminal justice system. Although these programs don't necessarily persuade many prostitutes to quit, they seem essential for those who are motivated to do so, and they can be effective in reducing some of the risks associated with prostitution, such as sexually transmitted diseases and assaults.

I deal with gangs in California and, at the time of this article, pimping isn't a gang-predicated offense. However, if it were up to me and many officers and prosecutors in my office, it would be. I've seen very clear connections between street prostitutes, their pimps and the criminal street gangs these pimps are members of.

The presence of gangs (and weapons and drugs) is a virtual guarantee when prostitutes are present, so I advocate taking an aggressive stance against prostitutes. When you arrest them, try to break them down to obtain information about their pimp and the gang involved. This information can then be used to go after the more serious and violent offenders.

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