Is prostitution the world’s oldest profession? Well, maybe it is even older. According to a study by Yale University, prostitution is older than professions—it is even older than the human species. At least, for cotton-top tamarins, an adorable monkey species that inhabits the Caribbean coastal forests. In the past decade, one female cotton-top tamarin kept under controlled conditions at Yale University discovered that she could obtain food in exchange for sex from her male counterparts. So bad for Rousseau’s bon savage although, to be fair, when Carl von Linnaeus gave in 1758 the tamarin its scientific name, Saguinus Oedipus, he was already making clear that something was wrong with these guys.
Fast forward to 2014, the Urban Institute has just published a study on the business of prostitution among the tamarins’ bigger cousins—us. The results are shocking, because they reveal that the prostitution business is almost identical to any legal activity.
The paper was made by interviewing 73 convicted pimps in 2012, and 2013, and its conclusions are the following:
1) In spite of being illegal, prostitution is not perceived as a legally problematic activity. The chances of being arrested are low, and the potential benefits, huge: the surveyed pimps made between $5,000 and $33,000 per week (roughly, from 3,600 to 24,000 euro);
2) The Internet is disrupting their profession, and provoking a supply shock, followed by a demand reaction. Pimps now recruit girls through the Internet, and “people who once would not have ventured to their city’s stroll in search of commercial sex are able to anonymously connect with sex workers. Often the new clientele are higher-paying customers,” says the document;
3) The Internet is giving the sex workers more freedom, since they can manage their own ads, and the security provided by their ‘protectors’ is not as demanded as it was in the past. Therefore, the pimps’ authority is being eroded, and with it their ability to charge fees;
4) Pimps want interns. In the prostitution business, this is tragic, because it means minors. The reason does not only have to do with the clients (‘johns’, as colloquially called in the United States) preferences, but with something different: “Younger women are easier to manipulate;”
5) They specialize. Pimps do not want the prostitutes under their control to engage in intercourse with young (under 25) or African-American persons, since they fear that those ‘johns’ will introduce the girls into drugs. Instead, they prefer the girls to focus on men older than 50, who usually are more ‘quiet’, and have more money;
6) They use incentives, but in a limited manner, and try to avoid them if possible. In general, cost control is very important in the prostitution business.