In looking at trafficking as a business, the next role we need to discuss is the salesman - the pimp. For many of us, the thought of controlling, abusing, and exploiting someone in this way is unimaginable. But it’s obviously the norm for a pimp. Imagine a boy who grows up in a rough neighborhood in a home full of economic distress and instability. All this boy knows is disfunction and the struggle to survive. What he sees portrayed in culture is an image of success at any cost. For the salesman, illegal activity has most likely been a part of his upbringing from the beginning and greed is his primary drug of choice.
Now that we’ve painted a picture of the stereotype, we want to go ahead and crush your paradigm. That scenario is most definitely played out all of the time in the trafficking business. However, pimps come in all shapes and sizes, both genders, and from all types of backgrounds. The blockbuster, “Taken,” was one of the first times that trafficking received major attention. The film most definitely paved a lot of ground for the conversation surrounding trafficking to take place. However, take even the visual that film painted and broaden your mind beyond the networks of Eastern European mafia. Pimps can even be normal-looking business men. One pimp we know of in a nearby city is a sharp-looking woman in her mid-thirties that gives off more of a “corporate executive” vibe than a cane carrying, fur coat-wearing predator. One trait unites all pimps: their disregard for the humanity of those they exploit. Abuse is their normal.
Now that we know that there are all kinds of pimps, let’s take a look at how they recruit. The first way is through force. This is the visual most people think of when they think of trafficking - a girl is abducted, raped (even gang raped), drugged, and held against her will as men are brought in to receive their services. This is very common in other parts of the world and it most definitely happens in the U.S. as well.
The next way is through coercion. This is when the pimp blackmails the girl, manipulating and controlling her to the point where she feels she has no choice but to “work” for him. This is the story of Theresa Flores, a well-known speaker and anti-trafficking advocate. She grew up in a solid, Christian home out in the suburbs. When she was in high school, she was drugged and raped and the whole process was documented by the people who did it to her. They told her that if she didn’t do what they wanted her to do, then they would send the photos to her family and even harm them physically. For what seemed like an eternity, they would pick her up once her family went to bed, have her work all night, and then drop her off at her house before her family woke up.
Another recruitment method is befriending. This process happens through the pimp himself, or one of his girls. Unfortunately this can take place anywhere that teenagers are together. It happens at school, at the park, at the mall, the list goes on. This is where the role of what is called the “Bottom Girl” (the real term is a bit off color) comes in. The Bottom Girl is at the top of the pecking order in a pimp’s network of girls. When the pimp is not there, she calls the shots and makes sure that everyone is where they need to be. She is often sent into situations to befriend younger girls and entice them into the life. The Bottom Girl will often take the fall when the police step in. She is so loyal to the pimp that it’s common for her to have to endure a severe beating in order to gain this placement. There’s no better girl than the Bottom Girl to strategize the befriending of other girls into a pimp’s network.
The final recruitment method we’ll discuss is seduction. These pimps are often called “Romeo” pimps. These pimps prey on girls who have little sense of value or self-esteem. One expert defined trafficking as “the exploitation of vulnerability,” and these pimps are experts at identifying the areas where girls are vulnerable and attacking. This pimp finds a girl and romances her. He takes her on dates, buys her gifts, makes her feel special and beautiful. He takes a girl who probably has no concept of true love, who has most likely been abused and neglected for most of her life, and he makes her feel loved and taken care of, causing her to fall in love with him. This is called the “seasoning process.” It’s during this process that he’ll often brand her by tattooing his name or mark on her body. Once he has her where he wants her, he’ll often tell her he needs her to help him with some sort of financial problem. So he starts her off slowly by stripping, then he gradually moves her into prostitution. By this point the girl is so attached to him that she is incapable of seeing him for the predator that he is. She would do anything for him - she would die for him.
That is what happened to a young lady we spoke with in a small town down South. She grew up in a broken home where her mom was absent due to drugs, and she never knew her dad. She started dating an 19-year old guy when she was 13. He bought her gifts, paid for her cell phone, and even got her mom a cell phone. He made her think he loved her, and she loved him back. He was a leader in a gang and he had a number of girlfriends like her. He gave them each a grotesque nickname and had it tattooed on his back. He would have her and the other girls have sex with other gang members upwards of ten times per night, but they never saw any of the money. This went on until he was arrested when she was 15. She didn’t even know what happened until she heard an Eye Heart World rep speaking at a girls event she attended. She told us “yeah, he was kind of like my dad, but he was kind of like my boyfriend…” The situation was so manipulated that she couldn’t even see it for what it was. This man’s method is frighteningly common.
In one of our favorite films on trafficking, “Nefarious,” an ex-trafficker was interviewed. Towards the end of the film he said something to the extent of this: “When it all boils down to it, she was a prisoner to one thing and I was a prisoner to another.” For these traffickers, unbridled greed drives them to lives of destruction and abuse. However they made it into the business of trafficking, these peddlers of exploitation must come to a place where it’s no longer normal.