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Merit Clark on Human Trafficking

I met Merit Clark through one of my many online venues, then met her live earlier this month at Left Coast Crime. She’s the author of the Detective Jack Fariel series, set in Denver, Colorado. Welcome, Merit.

I did a lot of research on human or sex trafficking for my second mystery, KILLING INNOCENCE. Trafficking is an enormous problem and has been identified as the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. Here are some facts that surprised me and may surprise you as well:

Photo of author Merit Clark
Merit Clark

Pimping is an equal opportunity profession

Most people think of the traditional pimp as male, but I learned that law enforcement has seen an increase in female pimps—to where it’s now close to 50/50!

Typically, female pimps work their way up from being a prostitute themselves to being the pimp’s right hand—known in the trade as “bottom bitches” or bottom girls, like the Raven character in my book. They have more freedom and can sometimes choose their customers. They’re allowed to collect money and coach the newer female victims on what to do.

For example, Raven tells the new girls about a tattoo they can earn that will make them special. Pimps often tattoo—or actually brand—their victims with these symbols of power. It’s spun as a badge of honor and a reward. You can google pimp brandings and see very disturbing, violent and often homemade tattoos.

Victims blame themselves

Victims are lured in through false promises, emotions, pretenses of love, safety and security. Plenty of money and all their other dreams come true.

Pimps use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and slide in at the level they see most exploitable whether it’s the need for shelter, self-esteem, affection or self-actualization.

One female pimp, “Tiffany” gained the trust of a victim by complimenting her, giving her a place to stay, cigarettes, and drugs. When “Tiffany” was arrested, this victim blamed herself and didn’t want to talk to detectives.

If you were robbed what would your reaction be? Call 9-1-1, right? Trafficking victims are very different. They’re loyal to their pimp and will take the blame 100% because sometimes, the pimp is the only person the victim can go back to.

Successful middle-aged married men buy sex

Maybe this one won’t surprise you!

Statistically, sex buyers that have been investigated or arrested are white males in their 40s and 50s.  45% are married and have a good income. In fact, according to some studies, high-frequency buyers are much more likely than other men to make $100,000 or more annually. On average, US sex buyers spend more than $100 per transaction, so it adds up!

Do the men who purchase these “services” believe the women—often underage, sometimes children, quite possibly undocumented—chose their profession willingly? Do they believe a teenager is really “into them?” What do they think?

In fact, not much, nor do buyers care. If a man goes through the effort to contact a prostitute, negotiate a price, and drive to a location he’s not going to hesitate to have sex because the person looks young and may have lied about their age.

Cover of Killing Innocence by Merit Clark, which is about human trafficking

By the way, the laws are written so that it doesn’t matter if the offender knows the true age of his victim. If the child is under 18, the crime is human trafficking. It doesn’t matter if they lie. The factual age is what counts to the police and “I didn’t know” doesn’t fly with them.

It’s a 24/7 industry

I had naïve ideas about how or when men visited prostitutes—maybe in the dead of night, or out of town on a business trip, or perhaps in the course of a rowdy bachelor party. Not true.

Colorado Springs police arrested “Brian,” for example, a middle-aged male, married with a good job. He liked to purchase sex before work, around 7:30 am, and frequented prostitutes along the I-25 corridor as this allowed him to easily continue his commute north on the interstate to his office.

Think for a moment about your male co-workers. Not going to look at them the same way, are you?

It may be small consolation to learn that most men have never paid for sex. In fact, it’s estimated that only 6.2%  have bought sex within the past 12 months and these high-frequency buyers account for a disproportionately large share of the illegal sex trade.

“Brian” was a prolific sex buyer known to police—he’d been tied to at least 2 other underage cases—but it was hard to gain a conviction because the only evidence police had was text messages he exchanged with sex workers. “Brian” had granddaughters the same age as his victims. Even though he was arrested multiple times it never affected his employment or personal life one bit.

No single location dominates although a frequent venue is “massage” brothels—known to law enforcement as “Illicit Massage Businesses” or IMBs. It’s sex workers at IMBs who were targeted in the mass shooting in Atlanta. According to the Polaris project, there are more IMBs in the US than Starbucks—and there are well over 8,000 Starbucks.

As one detective told me, “The more we can make our communities aware of these crimes happening next door, the more people might understand that no victim wanted to get into this or desired to become a prostitute.” Instead, they were forced or tricked into being raped repeatedly for somebody else’s profit.

That’s really what it is: rape for profit.

If you’d like to learn more the Polaris project is a great place to start:

You can find Killing Innocence on Merit Clark’s website,

And if you want to click around on my site, check out my latest fiction serial, A Little Family Business. Chapter One is here.

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