From Incest to Prostitution

Pimp-controlled commercial sexual exploitation of children is linked to escort and massage services being advertised on-line. On-line advertising profits exceeded $83 billion for 2010 alone. About one-fifth of these children become entangled in national organized crime networks and are trafficked nation wide. They are transported around the United States by a variety of means. The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12 to 14. It is not only girls that are affected — for boys and transgender youth the average age of entry into prostitution is 11 to 13.


In 1975, the New York District Attorney and New York police department initiated an investigation dubbed Operation Together which, among other things, was looking into mob control over gay bars, several murders of gay bar operators, drug trafficking at gay bars, and underage boy sex rings. Among the several murders being investigated by the authorities were those of Robert Wood, the owner of Salvation who was killed in February 1970, and Shelly Bloom, co- owner of the Sanctuary with Seymour Seiden, who was killed in March 1972.

A May 13, 1977 article (“Investigation into the sex industry begun by New York State and City; Inquiry Seeking Organized-Crime Involvement Is Outgrowth of Aborted Police Project”) by Howard Blum from the New York Times states “Mr. Bloom had been shot to death in his apartment on the night before he was suppose to testify before a federal grand jury investigating a South American cocaine-smuggling network. According to a confidential police report, the murder of Mr. Bloom may have been connected to the attempt by organized crime to control homosexual bars, to eight other unsolved homicides, to the procurement and prostitution of young boys and to narcotics trafficking.

This writer spoke with a former New York Police Department detective who worked undercover on the Operation Together investigation, and he stated that one of the men identified in Robert Wood’s letters complaining of mob extortion was Sonny Tobin. The source also identified a reputed Genovese associate whom he believes was responsible for the murder of Shelley Bloom, and stated that the guy’s primary role was collecting the mob’s take from several gay bars.

However, just as law enforcement was prepared to seek indictments, the investigation was inexplicably shut down over the objections of the investigating Assistant District Attorney and two detectives assigned to the case in 1977.

Operation Together allegedly implicated officials at the highest levels in New York City politics, power and society. For example, the former detective with whom I spoke alleged that the underage boy sex rings involved several high profile names, and among those he identified was an Oscar-nominated director who was notorious for his sex parties, which he stocked with underage sex slaves. And, of course, the mob had the goods on the powerful gay men who participated in these illicit Bacchanalian orgies, which exploited children.

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Indeed, a mobster visited the investigator and warned him to close the investigation because of where it would lead. The investigation nevertheless continued, even after a firebomb was tossed through the window into the apartment where the detective and his family lived. The detective claims that the NYPD refused to report the incident to the federal authorities as required by law, and further refused to provide him with protection. Two weeks after the bomb attack, ‘top brass’ at the NYPD closed down Operation Together.

R. Thomas Collins, Jr., a former Daily News reporter, writes about the shut down of Operation Together in his 2002 memoir Newswalker: “For 18 months a team of as many as 56 investigators from homicide, vice, narcotics, and intelligence worked under the command of the department’s Organized Crime Control Bureau. In all, Operation Together made dozens of arrests for dope peddling, prostitution and other moral charges and attempted bribery of police. The strategy of the investigation was to target people involved in gay bars, nab them on narcotics charges and get them to turn on their mob controllers, partners or extortionist. Among the depravity unearthed by this team was a network of chicken hawk patrons of child prostitution and kiddie porn as well as mob control of the gay bar scene. Then suddenly, just as members of Operation Together felt they were getting close to making investigative breakthroughs, the plug was pulled.

The task force was broken up; detectives, undercover officers and the Manhattan assistant district attorneys were reassigned. When a couple of plain-clothes guys protested, they were given uniformed foot patrol. One Midtown ‘pimps and pros’ expert was sent to Harlem. There was bad blood among the police. Cops I spoke to believed the worst, that the mob had pulled strings inside the NYPD and gotten the investigation killed. That’s what they expected; fearing that whoever committed these murders would get away with it.

Sexual abuse of children has become a public concern only recently in the United States, young girls and boys have been used to satisfy adult sexual desires for most of our history. Castration of boys, fondling, forced genital or anal intercourse, and sale for prostitution were common through much of Western history. “It was not until the sixteenth century that laws were enacted in England to protect girls and boys under the age of ten from rape and sodomy.” (Knudsen, p. 106) “In the nineteenth century, after the exposure of the ‘white slave’ trade, in which young girls were sold or kidnapped and forced into prostitution, the concept of ‘age of consent’ developed in England, defining the age at which a girl could consent to sexual intercourse initially at ten, then at twelve, and finally, in 1885, at sixteen…. Over the past ten years, the availability of literature on sexual assault has increased significantly. However, clinical data are increasingly suggesting that boys may be at equal risk for sexual victimization, since they are the preferred targets of habitual pedophiles and victims of child sex rings.”

What are the long-term effects?

There have been various studies based on childhood sexual abuse and relationships in adulthood. These studies show that multiple maltreatment and loss experiences in childhood interfered with the formation of secure attachments and created adult problems in self and social functioning. Childhood maltreatment resulted in poor adult self-functioning in the form of higher levels of depression and lower levels of self-esteem. Self-blame in response to childhood sexual abuse and maltreatment in adult relationships also predicated poorer adult self and social functioning for individuals.

Many incest survivors struggle with their abuse unaided. Many in prisons, mental institutions, or working in prostitution have been influenced by a history of sexual abuse. Those who have been most affected by such abuse may be unable to verbalize their pain and anger. Child sexual abuse is a violation that affects every aspect of a child’s life. Trusting relationships may be brought into question for a child once sexual boundaries have been violated.

The sexually abused child experiences a pervasive anxiety that cannot be relieved by the usual self-comforting behaviors of children. Such children frequently discover that the deliberate infliction of bodily injury can provide a temporary relief from overwhelming emotional pain (Draucker, 1996; Herman, 1992). Self-destructive behavior persists, becoming a source of great shame if discovered by others. Those who self-mutilate frequently describe a dissociation and numbness at the time of the injury, followed by a feeling of calmness.

Survivors may employ such behaviors as bingeing and purging, drug abuse, or other high-risk behaviors, to relieve their emotional agony. This in turn will result in problems with adult relationships and will be difficult for the individual to have emotional feelings towards a person.

Sexual abuse can also affect the survivor’s ability to establish and maintain healthy sexual relationships in adulthood. The anger they feel can be turned inward, causing depression and suicidal thoughts. Van-Egmond, Garnifski, Jonker, and Kerkhof (1993) studied the relationship between sexual abuse and female suicidal behaviors. In a study with 158 subjects (ages 20 years and older) who had attempted suicide, they found that 50% of the subjects reported a history of child sexual abuse. These subjects also experienced serious problems in their relationships with others, their sexuality, and self-fulfillment.

It has been suggested that long-term sexual abuse produces negative attitudes about experiences related to sex. Years after, childhood sexual abuse experience can be relived as if it were recurring in the present. It is not unusual for women to unconsciously reenact certain elements of their sexual abuse in much the way as they experienced it in childhood. It may be that painful events are recreated to attempt to create a different outcome, or to seek resolution.

Such reenactment may consist of unstable or violent interpersonal or sexual relationships that evoke anxiety, depression, or rage. This supports the notion that women who are sexually abused in childhood are at greater risk for re-victimization.

The perpetrators:

The study of a nationally representative sample of state prisoners serving time for violent crime in 1991 revealed that 20 percent (20%) of their crimes were committed against children, and three out of four prisoners who victimized a child reported the crime took place in their own home or in the victim’s home (Greenfeld, 1996).

Estimates of the number of incest victims in the United States vary. These discrepancies can be attributed to the fact that incest remains an extremely under reported crime. All too often, pressure from family members — in addition to threats or pressure from the abuser — results in extreme reluctance to reveal abuse and to subsequently obtain help (Matsakis, 1991).

Incest has been cited as the most common form of child abuse. Studies conclude that 43 percent (43%) of the children who are abused are abused by family members, 33 percent (33%) are abused by someone they know, and the remaining 24 percent (24%) are sexually abused by strangers (Hayes, 1990). Other research indicates that over 10 million Americans have been victims of incest.

One of the nation’s leading researchers on child sexual abuse, David Finkelhor, estimates that 1,000,000 Americans are victims of father-daughter incest, and 16,000 new cases occur annually (Finkelhor, 1983). However, Finkelhor’s statistics may be significantly low because they are based primarily on accounts of white, middle-class women and may not adequately represent low-income and minority women (Matsakis, 1991).

Incest and child sexual abuse each represent a betrayal of trust by someone who has power over the child. Children cannot give informed consent to sexual activity because they cannot fully understand adult-child sexual contact and because they cannot predict its consequences. For this reason, incest and child sexual abuse represent serious crimes. Nevertheless, these are largely hidden crimes and both adults and children, for any number of reasons, may be reluctant to report sexual abuse.

Therefore, it is extremely difficult to estimate the prevalence of child sexual abuse; statistics can only yield figures from reported cases.

Victims of child sexual abuse and victims of incest are found in all socioeconomic backgrounds, all ethnicities, and all races. Those with physical or mental disabilities are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. Also vulnerable are children with little contact with friends, siblings, or adults whom they can trust; abusers are able to take advantage of children who are already isolated.

Unfortunately, many non-abusing parents are aware of the incest and choose not to get their child out of the situation, or worse, to blame their child for what has happened. This makes the long-term effects of incest worse.

If you or someone you know is in an incest situation, do not hesitate to ask for help:

Call The National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE)
The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline

For those who need help, here are a few of the many available resources:

• RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) – Visit
• The National Center for Victims of Crime – Visit for a good list of resources
• OVC (Office for Victims of Crime)
• VOICES in Action, Inc. – Visit Voices in Action
If you believe that the child is in immediate danger, call 911!

Bibliography: Blume, E. Sue. (1990). Secret Survivors: Uncovering Incest and Its Aftereffects in Women. New York: Wiley Publishing.
Byerly, Carolyn. (1985). The Mother’s Book: How to Survive the Incest of Your Child. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing.

Davis, Laura. (1990). The Courage to Heal Workbook: For Women and Men Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. New York: Harper & Row.

Fuller, A. Kenneth and Robert Bartucci. (1991). “HIV Transmission and Childhood Sexual Abuse.” Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, 17.

Gust, Jean and Patricia Sweeting. (1992). Recovering from Sexual Abuse and Incest: A Twelve-Step Guide. Bedford, MA: Mills & Sanderson Publishing.

Hunter, Mic. (1990). Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse.
Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Mayer, Adele. (1985). Sexual Abuse: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment of Incestuous and Pedophilic Acts. Holmes Beach, FL: Learning Publications.

National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse. (1988). Basic Facts About Child Abuse. Chicago, IL: National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse.

National Center for Victims of Crime. (1997). “Child Sexual Abuse,” FYI, Arlington, VA: National Center for Victims of Crime.

National Center for Victims of Crime. (1997). “Civil Legal Remedies for Victims of Violent Crimes,” FYI, Arlington, VA: National Center for Victims of Crime.

National Center for Victims of Crime. (1997). “Cult and Ritualistic Abuse,” FYI, Arlington, VA: National Victim Center.

National Center for Victims of Crime. (1998). “Extensions of the Criminal and Civil Statutes of Limitations in Child Sexual Abuse Cases,” FYI, Arlington, VA: National Center for Victims of Crime.

National Center for Victims of Crime. (1992). “Rape-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” FYI, Arlington, VA: National Victim Center.

National Center for Victims of Crime. (1997). “Trauma of Victimization,” FYI, Arlington, VA: National Victim Center.

Ward, Elizabeth. (1985). Father-Daughter Rape. New York: Grove Press.

Wiehe, Vernon. (1997). Sibling Abuse: Hidden Physical, Emotional, and Sexual Trauma. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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