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Professor's study reveals sophistication of country's pimp business

Efforts to recruit sex workers, customers getting more high-tech

(WDIV) -- Local police have been cracking down on neighborhood prostitution by setting up stings in shopping centers, motels and other locations that are known to harbor illegal activity. But new research on the oldest profession reveals the people running these operations are moving off the streets.

A university professor studied the business of pimping, and she discovered efforts to recruit sex workers and customers are getting more high-tech.

Mary Finn, a criminal justice professor and researcher, is getting worldwide attention for her paper on pimps.

The business of booking and protecting prostitutes is the subject the professor's three-year study. She interviewed 71 pimps she found online and paid them $60 each to to get the lowdown on prostitution.

She discovered pimping online is big business. The average income is $75,000 a year, but many pimps make much more than that.

"A third of them made over $100,000 a year," Finn said.

She also found online sex trafficking is much harder for police to uncover. The study indicated that today, 80 percent of sex sales take place online with customers finding and paying for services from their smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Pimps are using the internet to find men and women willing to sell sex and customers willing to buy it, with much less risk of being busted.

"The internet does provide the ability to do a lot of things without taking the risk of it being exposed," Finn said.

A deep dive into the research shows police are often finding runaways and missing kids by surfing prostitution ads.

Pimps say they now use fake photos, allowing customers to choose general types and not specific people, which makes it even tougher to locate victims.

"They became more deceptive in how they advertised," Finn said. "They would change words they would use, so law enforcement wouldn't identify what they were selling."

Sex traffickers still advertise heavily on known sites such as Backpage and Craigslist, but hide "sex for sale" ads in the message or companion sections.

The pimps told Finn they're now on mainstream dating sites, such as Tinder and Match, looking for new customers and potential prostitutes.

"The sale of sex for money, prostitution, has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years," Finn said. "What technology has permitted is for that sale to occur in an online environment maybe more easily that it can occur in a physical space."

What surprised Finn most about her three-year study of pimps is how technology and profits are now modernizing an old underworld industry.

"Some were indeed very coercive, violent and very degrading in how they were exploiting another person and they didn't care, but there were others who had more of a business-type relationship that I would say was of mutual respect," Finn said.

The full findings of the study have been published in the journal Victims & Offenders.

Click here to learn how to report any suspicious activity related to the sex trade.