A few weeks ago, when we were talking about educated lap dancers, I wondered if any of my students were paying their way through school working in the sex trades. At the time I had in mind lap dancers, sex workers, escorts, et cetera. I never imagined that there were students paying their way through school, not by selling their own bodies (that part was easy to imagine), but by selling the bodies of others. Yesterday in my sex and love class we had a guest speaker (via video) who had done just that; he paid for a commerce degree at a Canadian university working as a pimp.
Economists know very little about how the relationship between sex worker and pimp is organized. Given that, I think I will let our guest speak for himself. The questions I asked him are questions that those of us working in this field would like to address. His responses, in my mind, reveal how little we really know:
Question: What is your role in the sex trade?
Pimp: Basically I help women, friends of mine, find paying customers. It’s a form of service and at the end of the day we all get paid.
Question: So do you consider yourself a pimp?
Pimp: That’s the word for it.
Question: What is the difference between the role you play and the role a woman would play in a similar position, perhaps, for example, a woman running a brothel?
Pimp: I have no clue. I have never been to a brothel and I don’t know if we have them here in [my city]. Maybe more organized. Got a more secure operation. Not much difference.
Question: How many girls do you work with?
Pimp: How many girls at one time? Five-six girls... right now I’m out of the game. I am finished with it.
Question: How do you choose who you want to work with?
Pimp: Everyone I work with I knew growing up, in [my city]. Most of the girls I work with I knew. When I first started with this... friends of mine knew this guy that wanted a bachelor party or wanted a stripper at a party. I knew a couple of girls... and, you know, these days are hard, you know, some have babies, no education, no high school no nothing like that. Money is hard to come by around here. I said "look, I got a way you could make some money tonight, 2 or 3 hundred dollars plus some tips." The first girl I go to says: "No, I ain’t doing that." Second girl I go to says: "No, that ain’t for me." Third girl: "I ain’t doing that." Fourth girl she got a baby and she got no food in the fridge, she is looking alright, you know what I am saying, she was down, made it happen. And that is how it started.
How I got into pimping was the same as one of these parties. One of the guys is like "How much to fuck a girl?" So, anyhow , I just pull out a number and say 400, 500 dollars and he’s like "cool." I run into the girl and she says $600 and she will do it. Go to the guy and he says $600. That’s how I really got into it. Like I say... prostitution.
Question: Do you have a contract with your workers?
Pimp: Ah, I don’t know it if is a contract but there is an understanding and there is a way that you sort of make them dependent on you. There is a trick to this game. Long-term girls I had, they happen to be girls, most of them, with a little drug problem. If you are able to use that habit against them, able to manipulate them, able make them dependent, never give them too much money. Because the minute someone don’t need you for something is the minute you aren’t going to see somebody again.
Question: So you keep their money?
Pimp: I get the money at the end of the night. I put groceries in the fridge, I might throw them a little bill or two at the end of the month. Half of the light bill or something like that. Because the minute they start saving money, collecting money, they’re gone. Forget about it.
Question: So they are not allowed to collect and take their own money?
Pimp: They maybe have some money of their own and I don’t know how to get it, you know what I mean, but you’ve got your ways to make sure you got your money.
Question: What services do you provide them with and what do you expect in return?
Pimp: The girls? Services I provide them with? Well basically protection. Also able to hook up jobs, especially around casinos and hotels, concierges and security at the casino, concierges at the hotels. The casino right down the road here... You could go there any day of the week and night of the week, throw a couple of tips on the table and guarantee them, talk to them and guarantee them everything I’ve got. You see a nice woman come around and ask you how your night is going and that’s how it starts. Right now today, any day, you go down there specifically at night, more so on the weekend, there are women in that casino working.
Question: How do you enforce your contracts? Specifically, what are your options if the contract is breached?
Pimp: You mean with the women? I ain’t killed nobody, you know. Some places, some other guys where the dude actually... the woman dies when they sort of move onto the next guy. You know. Now [my city]... no one is killing and robbing because I know these girls. Now when I finish with a girl, you know, basically there isn’t much I can do. So that is the point to make her more dependent on you. When the moment comes that she no longer needs you, that’s it.
Now if she shows up without my money, and this is the hardest part... the part that bothers me sometimes. This is what I got to deal with sometimes. You know I grew up with my mom and my sister. At the time I wasn’t really concerned about it but there was a time when you needed to rough up a girl here and there. You know, if you are thinking a girl is going to be make five-six-seven hundred dollars in a night and bring you something back "just cuz" then you are just joking, this game ain’t for you.
Question: Do your girls work inside or outside?
Pimp: You mean on the street or in hotels or something like whatever? Both. Now my top girls, I had most of them, you could say worked inside. They worked hotels or I put ads on Kijiji or Craig's List. I get calls. They work like that. Now maybe, the time, I might have had two or three girls running the street. When I started off most of the girls were outside. When I first started, the first couple of months, it was basically Craig's List or Kijiji, stuff that was going on at these bachelors' parties or hotel parties or whatever they were. And at the end of the night I get my cut. And maybe I would give her a little piece, if I were feeling that way, you know.
Question: How do you go about finding "dates" for your workers?
Pimp: Well, you know, these kinds of thing work themselves out. I put a girl in the [street], Friday or Saturday night and she can get some work. I put a girl in the casino and she can get some work. I put her out on Craig's List and she can get some work. Ain’t so much me finding the customers but the customers finding me or customers finding the girls.
Question: So you don’t really get involved in finding customers?
Pimp: No, I don’t want to know these guys, I don’t want these guys to know me. I had plans. plans to work in the city, and whatnot. I had a plan and I am not your average jack-ass. You know. I didn’t want to be known as this guy. I ain’t driving no pink Cadillac… wearing no mink coat. It ain’t that kind of thing. I was more behind the scenes. In the dark and out of the way. I was just in it for the money.
Question: What are your prices in general for specific services?
Pimp: A fine white girl, for her, maybe she works at the casino, once again at bachelor parties, she worked at [a strip club] at one period. Her ... a guy is paying her $500, paying me, $500, $600 maybe $700 at the top end, that’s for one hour. Don’t ever go the hour.
Now the girls running the streets they more, I don’t know how to say this, but they ain’t really dime pieces so a guy is just trying to get in a little blowjob, a little hand job in his car. She might say $50, $100 ... whatever the guy is prepared to pay for x amount of service. What ever she is prepared to do for x amount of money. They figure it out, but I don’t care because at the end of the night I need that girl to give me three-four-five hundred dollars, whatever it is. If she wants to charge $10 I don’t care, she just got to get the numbers right.
Question: Do your prices vary by race, or other characteristic, of the client?
Pimp: The only colour I care about is the colour green. I don’t see the client, I don’t care as long as I see my money at the end of the night. On a slow night I want $300, and that’s being easy on the girl, I mean she is making $300 an hour, two hours, three hours. That’s being easy on the girl.
Question: What is your income from this profession?
Pimp: When I was in it? Real talk. I can make 15 to 20 grand a month. Real talk. That’s a good month. A bad month 10 grand maybe and that’s because I had to take care of certain expenses. Easy.
Question: Do the clients pay you directly, or the girls?
Pimp: No the girls. I don’t care what the girls do to get their money... She could rob a bank, I don’t care. But at the end of the night I want my money. So they pay her, she pays me.
Question: So you never see the clients?
Pimp: Never. Now I might hang around the casino and watch them work so I know how many guys they left the casino with, right? I might hang around a certain street, I keep watching the girl, I keep circling and every time I don’t see the girl then I know she is... So I sorta use that as a way of measuring the quota. The only time I see the guy is a bachelor party. Maybe I hook something up for a guy. Maybe that is the only time someone is going to know who I am and what I am doing.
Question: Does one of your workers have the right to refuse a job?
Pimp: Of course. She can refuse. If the guy looks like a killer or rapist and she is getting in his car or going to his hotel room then yeah.
Question: Do your workers have other forms of employment? Do you know how much they make in those jobs?
Pimp: These are a bunch of dummies I am dealing with. I mean, not to be rude, but what are they going to do? Wouldn’t say they are dummies, but this is not a profession where girls are doing this because they want to—they are doing it because they have to. They can’t get a job at McDonald’s.
Question: Sex workers get paid more than other workers with similar skill levels, how would you explain that difference in pay?
Pimp: Well, what they are selling. A girl got the same skill level as a girl working at McDonald’s, working at Burger King, or Tim Horton's, or whatever, but how much you going to pay for a cup of coffee? How much you going to pay for a burger? How much you going to pay for a piece of pussy?
Question: What are the risks you face?
Pimp: At the time my biggest fear, the thing I was most paranoid about, was being robbed. Though I kept things on the low down, there were people who knew what I had to do. I sort of had partners at the time. Now people talk and if people know that you’re getting 10 thousand, 15 thousand, 20 thousand a month, they might be tempted to come after you. They are going to want your money more than you want your money. So I did keep a gun at my house and I did carry a firearm with me when I went to situations where it might be a little dangerous. And maybe as a form of intimidation to the girls sometimes, but never in my mind would I actually use that.
Question: Do you enforce the use of condoms with your workers?
Pimp: Yes. Definitely. I try to tell them to be safe. They call that the "girlfriend experience." I guess there is a market for it, but the girls that I am working with no. They are trying to get paid. They aren’t trying to die.