Seattle bucked a national trend of declining illicit sex revenue with local spending rising from $50 million in 2003 to $112 million in 2007, according to a report from the Urban Institute.
At the same time, the city has seen a big shift in prostitution solicitation from the street to the Internet — both in response to a police crackdown and as part of a shift that is happening around the country.
In the words of on Seattle law enforcement official interviewed in the report:
"I think that because of the Internet, it's just really exploded. And because it is just hitting now, I mean my wife would never go to Backpage or anything like that, so to her, she would have never known that this went on had she not been married to me, unless you are the hobbyist or the exploiter or the young girl involved in it. And then when people hear about Backpage or Craigslist, people are shocked. I’m like, 'Really you’re shocked?!' I mean, you can buy anything on the Internet!"
Cities around the country have seen a spike in Internet-based prostitution because of websites like Backpage and Craigslist, partly because the Internet provides some perceived advantages over street prostitution. Prostitutes tend to make more money online, and pimps believe it's safer to post ads online than to put their girls out on the street. While most street prostitutes have drug problems and work for pimps, more women in Seattle appear to be placing independent ads online to postitute themselves, the report found.
The Internet, however, can be a double-edged sword for sex workers, as cops can scour websites like Backpage and Craigslist to root out illegal activity with relatively little manpower.
As to why Seattle's underground sex economy is outperforming, a federal law enforcement officer pointed to the local economy:
"[T]hey used to say, as Boeing goes, Seattle goes. Boeing’s making record orders. Microsoft’s doing pretty damn well. Costco’s doing very well. Amazon’s doing well. So as a whole, there's a lot of, pretty much all the major Seattle-based companies, those are doing [well]. They will have people who are making good money that are getting paid.”
Atlanta's sex economy is also booming.
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