Hierarchy Within Human Trafficking

The sex industry may either be a highly structured organization that is run by a sophisticated hierarchy of individuals and groups with several key players or a decentralized entity with less organized small groups of individuals that lack a central leader.  The financial security of a pimp determines how large or small this hierarchy becomes. One study indicates that most trafficking organizations are small with one to five individuals involved. A few organizations are defined as large, consisting of six to 15, while very large organizations consist of 50 to 100 individuals. The structure of all hierarchies remains relatively similar to one another, despite the various sizes. Bradley Myles, Executive Director and CEO of Polaris Project, states that the business model for pimping is similar all across the United States.

The first model consists of a primary trafficker or kingpin, primary traffickers, secondary traffickers, spotters, the grassroots chain of intelligence gatherers, a network of established links with other exploiters such as pimps, and other stakeholders. The latter incorporates financers who subsidize transactions at different levels; goons or gonads who provide security at various levels; hoteliers who provide accommodations during transit; transporters who provide or arrange transportation; paramedical individuals who attend to the illnesses of the trafficked victims, typically during transit; officials who provide several services including security in lieu of sexual services or bribes; and final exploiters and abusers, such as individuals who may also be part of the network. All such individuals dictate the terms regarding the supply and demand of the trafficking process.

Another way to examine a trafficking hierarchy is the family hierarchy where the pimp is on top, thereby embracing status and power. They manipulate the “Game” and control the actions of others as it [the “Game”] is all about getting money. Having a certain amount of charisma and smooth-talking conversations towards women is what it means to have “Game” for pimps. Well-respected pimps, known as “Macks”, are at the top of the “Game” and employ several successful prostitutes. A Mack is the epitome of pimping as they are the top pimp who has it all. Another category of pimp is known as “players.” Such a pimp dominates the pimping scene and has an average stable of individuals while being respected in his or her subculture because [s]he makes a good living. At the bottom of the hierarchy are the “Tennis Shoe” pimps who only have one or two prostitutes on the street. Tennis shoe pimps are viewed as the least successful, are possibly on drugs, and allow their prostitutes to use narcotics.

“Bottom Girls” are second in command and are the equivalent of office managers of a legitimate business. This title refers to the prostitute who has worked the longest for a pimp while consistently bringing in the most money. Bottom girls are at the top of a pimp‘s organization as she is a trusted and experienced individual in a pimp‘s stable. Holding this title gives this prostitute status and power over the other individuals working for her pimp. This particular female individual monitors the prostitutes while teaching them everything there is to know in the industry. In addition to her other duties, a bottom girl looks after a pimp‘s affairs if her pimp is out of town, incarcerated, or otherwise unavailable. Bottom girls receive privileges that none of the other prostitutes receive, such as sleeping in the same bed as her pimp while all of the other prostitutes sleep on the floor. Another example is that the bottom girl is able to ride in the front seat of the pimp‘s car—meaning she gets to sit next to the pimp—while all the other prostitutes are made to sit in the back of the car or walk.

Thirdly, there is a “wife-in-law”, a prostitute with supervisory duties similar to those of a bottom girl. This individual, along with the bottom girl, will work the track in the place of her pimp as well as run interference’s for and collect money from prostitutes.

A pimp‘s enterprise may consist of subordinates who are responsible for transporting prostitutes to work, obtaining drugs for the prostitutes, maintain the household and/or vehicles, and securing prostitutes. Pimps may use family members and friends to act as [the] legitimate holder of vehicle titles, real estate leases, cash, and other property that the pimp has paid for with the proceeds he makes from his prostitute[s].

Prostitutes are underneath this layer of the pyramid as they are the bottom of the hierarchy.

Author’s Note: (c) Anna Rutherford Engel.  Please site if quoting any of my writing.  If you would like to know which studies or individuals I am citing in my work, please contact me and I will send you those sources.  Additionally, contact me if you would like my research as a whole.


4 thoughts on “Hierarchy Within Human Trafficking

  1. Good day! I’m actually writing a research paper on prostitutes. Currently, I’m looking for some information about the hierarchy of prostitutes (if there is such a thing). Seeing that you’ve already written about it, I was wondering if you could share your sources/ material with me. Your help’d be greatly appreciated. Thanks very much!

    • Via, thank you for connecting. I am excited to hear that you are looking into the hierarchy of prostitutes as there needs to be more awareness on this particular aspect of prostitution and human trafficking. If you don’t mind me asking, what is your research paper for? Below are some sources that I used in my personal research. Please feel free to contact me if you would like some further recommendations on sources/materials to utilize in your research!

      1) Janice G. Raymond, Ph.D., Donna Hughest, Ph.D. and Carol J. Gomez, B.A. “Sex Trafficking of Women In The United States: International and Domestic Trends.” March 2001.
      2) The Polaris Project
      3) United Nations: Office on Drugs and Crime. “Training Manual for Prosecution: Confronting Human Trafficking.”
      4) Shared Hope International
      5) Violence Against Women (Vol. 8, No. 9). Look for “Pimp-Controlled Prostitution: Still an Integral Part of Street Life” by Celia Williams and Terry Cluse-Tolar.
      6) Carson, Marlene. “My Story, My Destiny.” Search for this on http://www.voicesmatter.org.
      7) The FBI chapter in Sacramento, CA. You may want to contact the FBI chapter nearest you for area-specific information. You may also be interested in looking at the national FBI website and/or contacting an agent at that specific headquarters (if you are looking for nation-wide statistics and information).
      8) The local police and sheriff departments in my area. Contacting these two departments in your area will provide detailed information regarding prostitution and the hierarchy of prostitutes and pimps in your area, as this can vary depending on location. A detective that works on prostitution-related cases is a wonderful source of information!

      • Hi Anna! Thanks so much for your quick response. I actually live in the Philippines so getting in touch with the FBI would be really difficult for me but the info you’ve given is very useful. I was hoping to ground this part of my research on theory or previous data so although I know the hierarchy of prostitutes in the US may be different from the one we have here in the PH, I’m sure I can just come up with a localized version thanks to your sources. I just had to make sure I wasn’t delirious when I thought about the hierarchy. Ha!

        I was initially working on power relations between European sex patrons and Filipino prostitutes. I’ve been conducting interviews with prostitutes and their European patrons from Manila’s red light district. I thought I’ve already conducted interviews to the point of data saturation when I interviewed my (supposed) last 3 girls who gave me data totally different from what I had. I thought they were just outliers but I realized that the data I got from them is different because I used a pimp to get to them (as opposed to approaching freelance prostitutes like before).
        I’m going back to the red light district tonight to collect more data from girls who work under pimps to confirm my supplemental theory -the amount of power a working girl has over her client depends on where she is in the hierarchy of prostitutes – or something like that.

        I’m sorry for taking time out of your schedule but I really appreciate the help. Thank you very much, Anna! If you’re interested, I can give you my findings when I’m done with my research.

      • Hi Via,

        My apologies for not realizing that you were actually in the Philippians. You are absolutely correct that there IS a hierarchy within prostitution! That hierarchy may actually be slightly different in the Philippians than the hierarchy here in the States, although there may be some overlap and/or similarities. Since you are researching in the Philippians, I would suggest contacting their version of the FBI (or national investigative/crime unit) as they may have some useful information for you. 🙂

        Your thesis sounds intriguing! It sounds like that data you’ve collected so far varies on whether a girl works for a pimp versus herself. How have the interviews been going for you?

        Please do not apologize for contacting me! I love helping out wherever I can and I greatly appreciate the time and effort you put forth in contacting me! I would love to stay in contact with you to hear updates on your research, should you be willing to share, as well as help you in anyway that I can. Good luck on your research!

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