At the Karma Nightclub in Minneapolis a few days ago, April 5, there was a Players Ball.
Let’s stop for a minute. That’s a publicly-advertised wild bash at a nightclub, celebrating pimps’ business… What’s wrong with this picture?
It’s bad enough that we look at the record of arrests related to prostitution and we find that manifold more prostituted females are arrested and punished than pimping males. That is one reason the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008 aptly requires statistics on those arrested in prostitution to separate the numbers of arrests for prostituted people from the johns and pimps.
Pimps regularly engage in the force, fraud, and coercion that under the law qualify them as sex traffickers – whether or not the females they victimize are foreign nationals or U.S. citizens. But what’s worse is a culture which lionizes pimps. Pimps are celebrated as hip – in film, in television, in music lyrics. They are treated like they are admirable iconoclasts rebelling against the Establishment. They are seen as cool for “sticking it to the man.”
But just think about how their true specialty is abuse of the woman. To the woman from whom they take every cent received from johns, upon threat of punishment — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. To the woman they allegedly protect but regularly intimidate and beat. The regular violence pimps employ is far from the glamorized image in popular music, videos, TV, and films. Take it from Rachel Lloyd, a survivor of sex trafficking who leads Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), “So what’s it really like for us? They never tell us that we’ll never see any of the money we make…the beatings, the physical torture we’ll receive.”
Filmmaker Spike Lee said it all: “As African-Americans we let artists slide,” he observed to an audience in Toronto four years ago this spring. “I think that we have to start to hold people accountable.” Of gangsta rappers he noted, “These artists talk about ‘ho this, bitch this, skank this’ and all the other stuff. They’re talking about all our mothers, all our sisters. ” Looking at the big picture, he commented, “[W]e’re in a time when young black boys and girls want to be pimps and strippers, because that is what they see. . . .Something is definitely wrong.”
Later that year in Tennessee, Spike Lee said most trenchantly, “We’ve put pimps on a pedestal.” Exactly.
But lest you think this a moralistic sermon aimed at failings of the African-American culture, don’t. We should be most concerned about the businesses serving as enablers of this cultural symbolism.
We are rightly hearing more about the need for corporate social responsibility—indeed accountability – for supply chains of products made on the backs of victims of human trafficking. Yet that worthy agenda is typically aimed at human trafficking for labor exploitation – rather than for sexual exploitation. It is aimed at the girls found two years ago in sweatshops embroidering blouses for the Gap in India; the children and college students forcibly mobilized into harvesting cotton in Uzbekistan; and the slaves clearing fields for cattle or chopping sugar cane plantationsto produce biofuel in Brazil.
Business fuels sex trafficking too. Entertainment companies that make money celebrating pimps on TV and what’s on your family member’s iPod are partly responsible for a culture of impunity for pimps. Take the movie “Hustle and Flow” whose main protagonist is a pimp or the HBO series “Hookers at the Point” which glamorizes pimp-controlled prostitution in Brooklyn.
This kind of glamorization of the degradation of women by men is why as State Department Ambassador to fight human trafficking, I picketed HBO in New York with feminist colleagues for its egregious series “Cathouse” last fall.
Players balls like that at the Karma Nightclub – gathering gross exploiters for an orgy to celebrate what they do– are only the most flagrant example of a perverse respect for pimps. It’s time for some healthy disrespect. They deserve to be “dissed.” And punishment with significant jail time when a player is dehumanizing his fellow human being. Not a party.