The Dangerous Glamorization of Pimping

Aashika Damodar is a UC Berkeley student and group coordinator at STOP the Traffick. Send comments to [email protected]

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What would you call someone who feigns affection for a 14-year-old girl to win her attention, but then forces her to engage in numerous sex acts per day with customers, takes 100 percent of the profits and beats and threatens her if she tries to leave him? Those familiar with the issue of human trafficking recognize this person as a human trafficker. What is largely unknown, however, is that each day thousands of U.S. based pimps engage in these very behaviors. While most Americans look to Latin America, Africa or Southeast Asia when they hear “human trafficking,” pimps are trafficking women and girls in U.S. cities and suburbs. According to a recent University of Pennsylvania study, an estimated 200,000 American children are at high-risk for trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation each year.

A look at the U.S. federal anti-trafficking law reveals why pimping is human trafficking. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines one form of human trafficking as “sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.” Based on the Trafficking Victims Protection Act definition, pimps are defined as sex traffickers because they use beatings, sexual assault, gang rape, lies, false promises, deception and threats to force and coerce women and children to engage in commercial sex acts. Like international sex traffickers, pimps are U.S.-based sex traffickers that use the same tactics against people for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude and sex slavery. Indeed, judges and juries in numerous federal U.S. District Courts have convicted pimps of sex trafficking (See United States v. Pipkins, United States v. Brice, United States v. Curtis), and many states have prosecuted pimps using state anti-trafficking laws.

Using physical and psychological force, fraud and coercion, a pimp wields complete control and domination over one or more women or girls. Typically, a pimp establishes nightly quotas of $500-$1000 that the women and girls under his control must earn through commercial sex acts in order to eat or sleep. He keeps all of the money. Often, women and girls under a pimp’s control will not self-identify as victims of trafficking or seek help on their own, and —like victims of domestic violence—they may not leave their exploitative situations for a number of reasons, such as fear, violence, threats and self-blame.

The lack of public awareness about the reality of pimping is significant. Misconceptions about pimping and women and girls under pimp-control are widespread, and current mindsets combined with little awareness about anti-trafficking laws have led to serious ramifications.

Pimping is right under our nose, such as frequently-used Craigslist or MyRedBook where pimps advertise the women under their control. In addition, pimps are glorified by popular culture in music, TV shows, movies and magazines as well as “Pimp ’n’ Ho” parties on college campuses and the annual Player’s Balls held annually in major American cities to celebrate pimping. The glamorization of pimping makes pimps’ behaviors seem innocuous, admirable or humorous.

Meanwhile, many people believe women and girls in the commercial sex industry have a choice to engage in commercial sex acts. Pimps operate with relative impunity and the girls and women under their control are not often viewed as victims. There are few services available to victims and even fewer prevention programs to educate youth and adults about pimping. Passing stronger anti-trafficking legislation that will help prevent sex trafficking, protect victims and prosecute pimps is essential, but it will continue to be difficult to advocate for these laws until there is greater awareness about pimping and the true experiences of women and girls under pimp-control.

Local sex trafficking and pimping will be discussed by a local anti-sex trafficking activist, who will share her experience with the UC Berkeley community. The STOP the Traffick group will hold a “Words of Hope” letter writing event, which will take place on Oct. 23. For more information, e-mail us at [email protected] The community is invited to write letters to human trafficking survivors and to learn more about domestic sex trafficking and how to assist trafficked survivors.


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