Pimps in America: A Look at the Men Behind Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking

June 28, 2011

How exactly do young American girls get involved in domestic minor sex trafficking? Also, why are they considered victims if this is the lifestyle they are choosing?

These are common questions being asked among American public today as news of domestic minor sex trafficking in our country is exposed. We hear of foreign victims that were brought to [...]

the United States for labor or sex trafficking - and we realize they are victims of this heinous crime. Why we are hesitant to admit is that these same crimes are being done to American youth - and that they are victims too. It's almost like, what American victims are forced to do and be, brings out a subconscious prejudice in our ability to see them as victims too. We often forget that 12 year old girls don't dream of growing up to work in the sex trade, and they are only there because they are forced, coerced and manipulated into that world without any escape.  

Many of these girls are looking for the love and affection they are not getting at home. Youth and naivete make young girls unchallenging targets for a skillful trafficker who knows just what to say to make a 12 year old girl swoon. 

This was true Mary*, a 14 year old Brooklyn girl who was unhappy at home. Mary hadn’t seen her father in years and had a hard time getting along with her strict, religious mother. She prayed every night for a boyfriend and in the spring of her 8th grade year, she thought her prayers had been answered. Her youth and inexperience prevented her from seeing any of the many red flags that would have prevented her from thinking this trafficker was really her boyfriend. Mary's story is an example of what is known as the "boyfriend pimp."

As Mary passed by her local supermarket everyday, she started noticing an older guy who would wink at her and tell her she looked cute. She started talking to him and eventually
started to go on "dates" with him. He made Mary feel comfortable and told her he loved her and that if she loved him, she would start having sex with him. Conditional love is a perfect example of a red flag that young girls need to be taught to recognize. Any boy who says "You don't love me unless you ..." is putting a condition on love. Because the "boyfriend pimp" is usually older than the 12-14 year old girl he is targeting, he has a dominance over her that she doesn't even recognize. Other boys her age are still riding a bike, while this fake "boyfriend" seduces her with access to a car, money, alcohol. In this story, even though she didn’t want to, she felt like she had to to please him.

A few weeks later, Mary's “boyfriend” disappeared from her life completely. She fled to find him and his conditional love was raised up a notch. "If you love me, you need to work for me." Still unaware of what that meant, she agreed. But her dream of being with her new boyfriend turned into a nightmare. He used manipulation and force to get Mary to perform acts with other men and give him all of the money. 

Mary is now 20 years old, and though she never testified against her trafficker, or the other men who bought her, she now works for an outreach center against human trafficking in New York City. 

Disguising themselves as a “boyfriend” is one way that traffickers coerce their victims to work for them. Young girls assume that these "boyfriends" are who they have been looking for - until months later they find themselves forced into their sex trade. 

Another way young girls are manipulated into the sex trade is by traffickers who are referred to as “Gorilla pimps.” These pimps use violence, coercion and manipulation to scare their victims into working for them.

One 35 year old man out of Memphis, TN used this exact method of coercion to force girls  into his sex trafficking ring out of Memphis.

The alleged trafficker used tattoos to brand his victims with his nickname, knocked out a teen's front teeth and chopped her hair off with a knife, poured bleach on another victim before burning her with an iron and beating her with a padlock. He also smashed another victim's head into a car before stripping skin off of her back, according to the federal charges against him.

The man is now using the same manipulation in the court system - attempting to plead not guilty to his charges. He has been through 5 lawyers, describing them all as incompetent or unethical.

These two types of traffickers, known as "boyfriend pimps" and "gorilla pimps" are among the most common in our country today. Boyfriend pimps and gorilla pimps use what they can to manipulate minors into their sex trade ring. Young and inexperienced girls are easily manipulated by the way both of these kinds of pimps treat girls in the beginning of their relationship. Once they are trapped, many still believe it is a relationship of love. Their dreams of love are replaced with the nightmare of terror, abuse, and violence. 


*Name changed to protect the victim

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