The truth about human trafficking, pimps, and johns

A recent study on pimps in Chicago answers important questions about human trafficking and exploiters. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, January 12, 2012 ―Most pimps and johns are not escaped mental patients living in remote forest cabins who have a sex slave caged in their back yard. They are rather average Americans who trivialize sexual violence against women.

Recently, DePaul College of Law conducted a research study on former pimps. The study was based on the interview of 25 former pimps in Chicago area, where child prostitution and domestic sex trafficking are rampant.

According to the research, most pimps are “average Joes” who were victims of sexual exploitation themselves.  The study also found that johns, people who purchase sex, and others who exploit sex trafficking victims are also average Americans, who happen to view women as commodities. 

According to the study, 64% of the former pimps were African Americans and 20% of them were Caucasians. 72% of them were male and 28% of them were female. 64% of the interviewees said that they have not finished high school.

The majority of interviewees were victims of violence during their childhood. 88% of them said that they were physically abused in their childhood, and 76% of them said that they were victims of sexual abuse. 88% of them indicated that they grew up with domestic violence. 84% of them stated that they witnessed substance abuse in their home environment during their childhood.

With very little education, pimping provided the study subjects a financial benefit that they would not have accomplished by taking any other occupations.  Although the majority of interviewees lacked a high school diploma, they earned average salaries of $150,000 to $500,000 by pimping women.

The 25 pimps in the study indicated that the total number of victims they exploited in prostitution exceeded 4000.

Many pimps claimed they were helping victims by prostituting them. Some of them said that they were teaching the victims “not to give away their bodies for free.” While moving the victims from “gutter to feeding, housing, and clothing them,” pimps said that they felt as though they were restoring the power of down and out victims during prostitution.

One former female pimp mistakenly believe that sexual violation against women is fact of life and can be used to benefit the women.

“I felt I was a good businesswoman to get paid and help my girls get paid for the same sh— that gets taken from you. It is a part of our society and what people want.” 

Interviewees said that johns generally were well-respected men with regular jobs rather than those with sex addiction or other serious mental illness. One pimp said that most johns were wealthy Caucasians or Asians. Clients include stock-brokers, musicians, politicians, writers, policemen, lawyers, hotel bellmen, bartenders and cab drivers.

Pimps said that while they had various tactics to recruit johns to their prostitutes, there was generally was no shortage of customers.  One former pimp said that it seemed as if “johns were falling off the trees.

The Gambino Madam, Suzanne Porcelli, 40, who was accused and pleaded guilty to helping the mob pimp out young girls (Associated Press)

The Gambino Madam, Suzanne Porcelli, 40, who was accused and pleaded guilty to helping the mob pimp out young girls (Associated Press)


The report also suggests widespread police corruption in the human trafficking business. When asked how pimps continued to operate their highly public and illegal business, 60% of pimps said that they bribed police.

Many anti-human trafficking efforts in the past have focused on raising the awareness of human trafficking and criminalizing them at the state levels. But, DePaul study shows that much more needs to be done to defeat the crime. Though criminalizing pimps and rescuing victims are important, authorities should also tackle johns and facilitators.

They not only need to educate johns and facilitators about victims’ wounds after prostitution but also impose dire consequences of their wrong deeds. 


Youngbee Dale is a freelance writer, researcher, and policy analyst. You can reach her at or follow her on facebook and Twitter 


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Youngbee Dale

Youngbee Dale graduated from Regent University with Master’s degree in International Politics in 2009. While at Regent, she interned at World Bank and co-contributed to a human trafficking publication, “Setting the Captives Free” by Olivia McDonald (2007). She also worked with migrant workers and human trafficking victims in South Korea. Currently, she stays home with her three-month-old son to exercise the divine rights to mother and breastfeed him. 

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