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The Trade: Sex Traffic in Miami

Sex Traffic in Miami

Miami Tower by jikatu at Flickr Commons

Miami Tower by jikatu at Flickr Commons

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Sex on the Beach

Along Miami’s beaches, a string of clubs caters to customers from Eastern Europe—mostly men. We’re talking about strip clubs and topless bars.

Girls are sent in by pimps to find “dates.” Once a girl finds a date, gets his money, and performs some kind of sex on him, she’ll often just go on to the next club.

But it’s possible some of the girls work for the clubs, or are “employed” by the clubs’ owners and just float between locations.

This info comes from a report by the Urban Institute, “Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Traffic Economy in Eight Major US Cities.”

There’s a lot of sex traffic going on in Miami, but the Eastern European beach clubs are probably specific to the city. In an interview, one Miami Law Enforcement Official said:

“ . . . I’m sure even with some of the juveniles that we’re getting, they are also hitting the clubs on Miami Beach. They just go from club to club looking for dates. Usually their pimp is close by. Sorta kinda doing the street walking mode, except that they’re going inside the club and trying to come out with a date.”

No one’s sure exactly how much sex traffic happens in these clubs, since resources for investigation are limited.

Street-Based Sex Traffic in Miami

The report said that street-based sex traffic in Miami has changed and declined in recent years.

That doesn’t mean sex traffic in Miami is on the decline. It just means that pimps are getting smarter about how they work. They run into less law enforcement when they work indoors—at places like the beach clubs, strip clubs, and massage parlors—and they can get higher prices indoors anyway.

It’s frustrating for Miami officials, because once they catch onto a trend and try to put a stop to it, the pimps change the way they work. (That’s pretty much true for sex trafficking anywhere you go. Once the cops catch up with the pimps, the pimps move.)

“We’re not really seeing as many street walkers, the girls are going inside to the strip clubs and massage parlors and the Internet because I think they’re getting more money inside and the police aren’t as prevalent on the inside of those places. . .It’s changing, the cycle and the trend is changing. Once we see something, we’ll start hitting it really hard, and then they’ll change the way they’re doing things.”

(Miami Law Enforcement Official, UCSE Report)

Street-based prostitution fetches the lowest prices—as low as $15 per sex act—and these days most of the girls found on the track are drug-addicted US citizens. “Five years ago,” said a Miami Official interviewed, “we used to have mostly minors working the tracks, which really doesn’t happen that much anymore.”

In Miami, most trafficked minors are sold by pimps over the internet.

 

Brothels in Miami

Another trend the report found in Miami is that most brothels in the area are run by Hispanic or Latino families—not organized crime networks.

Mexican drug cartels are organized, and they sometimes traffic women and children over national borders, but the brothels themselves are more like family businesses. The girls come from all over, especially Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Brothels are tricky. It can be hard for officials to figure out which girls are being trafficked, and who is there voluntarily. Some trafficking victims don’t want to admit they’re victims, either from fear or shame. And sometimes girls who were initially trafficked just wind up staying in the brothel network of their own free will, because it’s all they know.

After a recent investigation, one Miami Law Enforcement Official noted that, “A lot of the girls were doing it voluntarily at that point, but had been trafficked in seven, eight years ago. They paid their debt off [the amount of money it cost to purchase and/or smuggle them—yes, the girls are expected to work that debt off] and they stayed down there. They know how to make money now so they do it voluntarily. They’re much older now, not very attractive, it’s kinda like this is all they got.”

Instead of just staying with one brothel, these girls are often trafficked along a circuit that follows the route of migrant farmworkers, and the annual crop seasons. Migrant farmworkers make up the majority of their customer base.

This circuit travels up through New York and New Jersey, and along the eastern coast of the US. So Miami may not be the girls’ first or final stop when they cross US borders.

Talk about being far from home.

***

L. Marrick is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. 50% of proceeds from her upcoming 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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