Tag Archives: prostitution

From Pimpin’ to Prison

By Karen Hoover, Fall Intern

Shelby’s Sentence

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan

Shelby Shaandor Lewis, born April 4, 1967, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for prostitution and human trafficking during an intensive sentencing hearing with Judge Sullivan in DC Federal District Court yesterday. Lewis’ family, children, and two out of four of his victims were present, along with numerous other individuals. Lewis’ attorney, Christopher Davis, began his opening statements by asking for the judge to sentence Lewis on the ‘low-end’ of the sentencing guidelines, therefore asking for 180 months (15 years) instead of the recommended and suggested 200 months (20 years). Davis argued that Lewis “stepped up to the plate and accepted responsibility to this issue.” Davis introduced previous cases (relating to different charges not including human trafficking or prostitution) for “equally egregious conduct” where defendants received only 96, 100, and 110 months. Furthermore, he tried to convince Judge Sullivan that Lewis would be “well into his 50s” before he would get out of prison. This, he assured us, would cause Lewis to change his behavior and leave this lifestyle of prostituting minors for commercial purposes. Davis also tried to minimize Lewis’ over 25 previous arrests for charges such as battery, assault, theft, solicitation for lewd purposes, impersonating a police officer, and use of handguns.


The hearing then took a spin when Lewis began saying he was sorry for his actions and for the situation he got himself and his family into. He said he was trying to “help” the girls he victimized, take them under his wing, provide for them, and be a father figure. Judge Sullivan jumped on these statements and immediately confronted Lewis. “You weren’t helping anyone out. You were gaining money from using those young girls and helping yourself.”

Life sentence for a victim

Bridgette Tillman, Assistant U.S. Attorney, read from a victim impact statement written by one of the young girls. When asked how the victim felt about herself she answered “angry, embarrassed, and self-pity.” When asked what the pimp (Lewis) should know about her, she said that the experience and abuse made her “angry and stronger.” Tillman went on to say that Lewis took advantage of the unsettled lives of these girls and promised them a home life, food, clothes, and shelter. Instead he put them on the street and made them work for him while he drove the streets looking for more vulnerable girls. Tillman argued that it made no sense for Lewis to serve only a 15 year sentence when these victims would be living a life sentence of shame, hurt, and pain, never able to get the years of life back that he violated them.

A helping pimp?

Is 20 years enough time for Lewis to reform?

Judge Sullivan offered Lewis time to reconcile himself and say what he wished in regards to the hearing. Lewis again tried to convince the judge and audience that he was helping these girls and “never used or abused” any of them despite when the written plea clearly stated that he was an appointed guardian over four minors ages 12, 13, 14, and 16, of whom he prostituted. Each of these girls was living in his house alongside his own children. He transported them in his black, Ford Mustang and champagne, Chevy Tahoe between Temple Hills, M.D. and Washington, D.C., where he forced them to engage in street prostitution. They were required to give him all the money they earned.

After Lewis alleged that he never used or abused the victims, Judge Sullivan inquired whether Lewis pled guilty because he was guilty or rather to get the trial over with. Judge Sullivan appeared slightly confused and asked Davis and Lewis whether the plea of guilty still stood or whether Lewis was suddenly changing his mind and wanting to plead not guilty. Lewis declined answering some questions and instead motioned for the hearing to continue with the plea agreement of guilty.

20 years enough?

Judge Sullivan handed down a sentence of 200 months (20 years) to be served concurrently in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  He signed the sentence after Lewis voluntarily waived his right to attend his upcoming restitution hearing scheduled for December 16, 2010. In addition to the 20 years, Lewis must provide a DNA specimen for the sex offender registry, which he is required to register for life. He is to have no contact with children under age 18 (including his own children) or with the victims. Lewis must also attend sex offender treatment and abide to corresponding employment restrictions.

Lewis’ last words before leaving the courtroom were “I’m ready to go.” He appeared distressed, shook his head, and took his wedding band off. Judge Sullivan concluded his statements by telling Lewis that if he could make the sentence consecutive he would do so, extending the sentence of 20 years to 80 years.

Court discernment

During the sentencing the atmosphere was tense as the audience wondered whose arguments would carry more weight in influencing the judge’s decision. Occasionally the victims got up and left the courtroom; one girl left crying, overwhelmed by the situation. Some news repor

ters took opportunities to interview others present in the courtroom. By the end of the sentencing, the audience seemed to be in a damper mood, recognizing the consequences imposed on Lewis. However, most of the audience seemed pleased with Judge Sullivan’s decision, perhaps even wishing that he could have sentenced Lewis consecutively.

A pimp’s consequences

Lewis' case will set a precedent for future sex trafficking cases

This case is monumental in fighting against human trafficking specifically in the United States. Judge Sullivan did a great job sentencing Lewis, as well as being true to the law. Those in attendance saw the concerned side of Sullivan when he encouraged the family to have Lewis’ four-year-old son leave the courtroom, stating due to the nature of the case it would be unwise for the boy to be present. In the end, is it fair that Lewis only received 20 years due to the type of plea agreement when in fact these four victims—all of whom were minors at the time of the offenses—will live with these memories for the rest of their lives? Is it true that Lewis will mellow and get away from this behavior once he is in his 50s and out of prison? The case and sentence provide ample deterrence factors to other pimps. Lewis will not only spend the next 20 years locked away, he will also potentially lose relationships with his children and family.


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“We doin’ big pimpin, spending G’s…”: Why is this Crime Glamorized?

A blog post by Fall intern Rachel Moore

Disclaimer: The examples and references given in this post in no way suggest that Shared Hope is promoting the below types of memorabilia. We understand curiosity and investigating on behalf of interest; however, we do not recommend the purchase of such items, which could in turn endorse the commercial sex industry.

Jay-Z's album cover

Jay-Z’s catchy hit from 2000, hasn’t lost any novelty during its ten year run in the music industry. It even costs $1.29 on iTunes—the price reserved for only the most popular songs within the virtual-jukebox—instead of the standard $.99. In a culture where pimps are idealized as wearing bright orange top-hats, luxurious furs and sporting fancy canes, who wouldn’t want to be “doin’ big pimpin’ up in NYC”? I offer two basic reasons why becoming a pimp can be so appealing in 2010, but please remember, my rudimentary analysis is by no means exhaustive. I simply suggest that the promise of being cool and making lots of money can be a deadly combination that has created an enticing outlet for the up-and-coming commercial sex entrepreneur.

It’s bad (that means good)!
The pimp culture doesn’t achieve all of its glorification just from Hip-Hop charts in the music world; the message is pervasive. From books to movies and video games, there is a never-ending list of media promoting the “ghetto-fab” lifestyle. Just ask Border’s bookstore sales representative Margaret Rhatican about her experiences working in a place where you are sure to find the story of  A Pimp’s Life within a series of books about “working the streets.” Just in case one needs a little extra guidance, Amazon offers The Pimp Game: Instructional Guide for pimps in training. In the world of cinema, movies like Pimp (2010) and American Pimp (2000) have received rave reviews on IMDd (the Internet Movie Database), and video games like Grand Theft Auto, which allows gamers to virtually beat prostitutes, are top-ranked editors’ picks.

Classic depiction of a pimp

The word pimp in today’s vernacular has come to denote the improvement of just about anything. The growing world of social networks has been enhanced by a plethora of Websites dedicated to the simple pimping of one’s profile on MySpace.  The hit MTV show “Pimp My Ride” is often thought of in this context, because who doesn’t want their car equipped with the ability to act as an amphitheater and circus-ride simultaneously? Pimping or to be pimped is merely the process of making something bigger, better, and brighter in our daily jargon. What’s wrong with that? You can even pimp your name on playerappreciate.com. I always thought Rachel was a little boring and needed some spice so I gave it a try. Ghetto Fabulous Rachel Shizzle, Master Fly Moore Loco, Crazy Eyes Rachel Flex, and Vicious D. R. Dogg were just a few of the names I found most interesting. It may seem harmless and exciting to take advantage of these flashy “improvements,” but when pimping is  indicated by ridiculousness or flamboyance, it is very easy to forget the darker realities associated with the true connotations of this term.

You make bank (lots of G’s)!

Seattle-area pimp Jerome Todd

A pimp is not only a member of the “awesome-elite,” he’s rolling in the dough. It’s the most secure job in an un-secure economy. It’s “recession proof,” says Linda Smith in her book Renting Lacy, because “commercial sex turns out to be one of the few U.S. products produced cheaply.” Why would someone import from elsewhere what they can find right in their own backyard?  The product is even more profitable when it can be recycled. In the recent Congressional DMST Hearing, Rep. Carolyn Maloney said it best when she described trafficking humans as heinously convenient. People can be sold over and over and over again, unlike the commodities of the gun or drug trades, which are only one-time sales.

There is no denying that pimping is a lucrative business. This is arguably what makes a pimp so glamorous. “The money is too good. It will never stop. It’s like stopping people from eating. This game will never stop,” were the words of one of the ex-pimps interviewed by DePaul University researcher Jody Raphael and Brenda Myers, Chief Operating Officer of The Dreamcatcher Foundation,  in their study, “From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex-Pimps in Chicago“. Their research estimated that the yearly income for pimps is roughly $150,000-$500,000 a year. That’s just chump change right? Tell that to the trafficker who was making $40,000 a week selling women to satisfy the demands of the gluttonous consumers of sex. Money—the root of all evil according to 1 Timothy 6:10—continues to fuel the fire of this ever-growing market, and doesn’t everyone want to be a millionaire?.

Make it whack! (that means not right)

Rasheed Davis, charged with sex trafficking

What can be done to take the glitter and glamor out of the pimp-life? Change the vernacular. Searching the words trafficker, rapist, or abuser does not elicit the same Google images of fur, hats, and fancy canes as the pimp search, but instead, reveals truer depictions of the atrocity associated with each term. This necessary shift will take time and a complete transformation in society’s ingrained perceptions.  Would a different approach that could act as a catalyst for such a change be more effective? Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher think it’s possible. They have started a trend focusing on positive reinforcement with the “Real Men Don’t Buy Sex” campaign. The Demi & Ashton Foundation (DNA) wishes to eradicate sex on the Internet in the hopes of rehabilitating the cyber-world to act as a weapon against sex trafficking.

Additionally, is it possible to formulate a pre-emptive strike? If so, education is key, and “by specifically educating and empowering young men, it is possible to decrease the number of people who patronize the commercial sex trade,” according to Allison Dunn Burque of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE). That is why she created a curriculum that has the potential of “increasing the number of men who are allies in understanding and challenging the harms of commercial sexual exploitation.” Both the DNA and CAASE realize that society will not end the demand in this industry without the strong and crucial role of men who need to say, “Buying sex is wrong, and even more so, it destroys dignity.”

Make them pay (lots of G’s)
The unfortunate reality is pimps exist, and more often than not, they are not wearing ridiculous costumes, and they most certainly are not interested in upgrading your Toyota. It is also crucial to remember that this role is not restricted to men. A Florida woman was sentenced last week to 2 ½ years for trafficking young girls, and her male accomplice may face 20 years and a $250,000 fine (a mere fraction of their income). Also last week, a Massachusetts woman and her 18-year-old son plead guilty to inducing a child into prostitution. As I said, the “cool reputation” and assurance of wealth aren’t the only incentives in becoming the big pimp that Jay-Z advertises. Familial ties to the life, the history of abuse, and coercion can all be added or tangential factors that lead to one assuming the pimp role.

However, pimping today is attractive and immensely profitable. Many of the Facebook fans of Shared Hope recommend sentencing the sellers of domestic minor sex trafficking victims to a minimum of a life sentence. Is that sufficient? Would that create the necessary cultural shift needed to amend society’s perceptions? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know it couldn’t hurt. It would definitely be a step in the right direction, because no one should be “doin’ big pimpin’.”

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What are they thinking?

During a recent hearing on domestic sex trafficking of minors in the United States that revealed the extent of the problem and the vast number of men who are purchasing sex from prostituted minors, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) asked, “What are these American men thinking?” 

What indeed?

In his book The Johns, Victor Malarek sets out to address that question.  Malarek spent time on websites (and apparently there are several) listening to men who buy sex (the “johns” or the buyers) talk to each other about their paid sexual experiences and why they pay for sex. He shares a number of insights along with commonly used lingo: like P4P (pay for play), “mongering” (paying for sex) and “GFE” (girlfriend experience).  While Malarek focuses on paid sex generally rather than paid sex with minors specifically, the mentality of the men who pay for sex generally applies to both.

So what exactly are the men saying? In one chapter entitled “Girlfriend Experience” (“GFE”), men share stories about their sexual adventures in other countries where they pay to have sex with “beautiful women” who cater to them.  Several of these men acknowledge that they go to other countries because they aren’t successful with American women.  For a little money, they can have a sexual experience along with a “girlfriend experience” where the woman or girl provides sexual services and the man can fantasize that she is his “girlfriend.”

 In another chapter called “Monster Woman,” men vent angrily about American women who have taken their jobs, taken over the family, and are “greedy, needy, self-centered and spoiled.”   Malarek says that these men cast themselves as victims who believe they are being denied what they are entitled to(sex), by women who are too demanding.  Malarek says “they [the johns] want it when they want it, on their terms alone. There’s the physical urge, of course, and the physiological release – what they’ll describe as a natural need – but there’s also a deep desire to maintain some sort of control, and sex has always offered a way to exert dominance over women.” (p. 132).

This is not an easy book to read.  Malarek is unflinching in his writing, and the men he is profiling and the views they are expressing do not make for “light” reading.

But his message is incredibly important. Malarek notes that “each year more than 800,000 women and children are lured, tricked or forced into prostitution, joining an estimated 10 million women already ensnared in the $12 billion-a-year global sex trade.” And Malarek’s message on how to combat this is quite simple: Target the Johns. “Criminalize the buying of sex. Teach them [buyers] what’s at stake, whether through education, tough sentencing, or otherwise. Hold them accountable for their actions.” (p. 295).

Malarek also calls for a change in societal attitudes. “Society must confront just how damaged masculinity is today and how destructive male behavior has become, both inward and outward…For real change to occur, we have to turn the tables and point the finger of blame at the real perpetrators – the johns, the pimps, the princes of porn.  Society has to radically rethink men’s responsibility in prostitution, and prostitution must be seen and defined as a male issue.” (p. 295-6).

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The Swedish Approach to Prostitution, Part II

The Swedish Approach to Prostitution: Could it work in the U.S.?

Since 1999, Sweden has taken a unique approach to prostitution.  In Sweden, it’s a crime to pay for sex. Prostitutes (mostly women and children) are referred to government funded programs aimed at getting them out of prostitution while customers (mostly men) who are paying for sex are charged and prosecuted.

Would that approach work here in the United States? What if we made it a crime to buy sex, and focused our attention on stopping the demand? What if instead of charging prostituted women and children with soliciting, we copied Sweden:  investing in support services to help them leave prostitution, and charging the person who is paying for sex?

            Obviously, the US and Sweden are different countries.  So what are our differences in approaching prostitution?

The 1999 law makes it clear that Sweden sees prostitution as a women’s issue, and as a form of violence against women and children. This is very different from our current view in the U.S.

While both countries recognize women’s rights, Sweden has often led the U.S. in terms of timing.  Women in Sweden were given the right to vote in all municipal elections in 1909; in the United States, women gained the right to vote in 1920.  Sweden outlawed rape in marriage in 1965; in the U.S., marital rape was finally outlawed in all fifty states in 1994, when Texas enacted a law. Sweden also has more women in government than the U.S.  For several years, Sweden led the world with the highest female representation in government (close to 50%). And the female politicians were vocal supporters of Sweden’s legislation. To contrast Sweden and the U.S., at the end of 2009, Sweden had 46.4% women in government (second highest in the world); the U.S. had only 16.8% in the House of Reps; and 15.3% in the Senate.[i]

Perhaps the biggest difference between our two countries is our view of prostitution.  Here in the United States, prostitution is not seen as violence against women or children; and we do not view or treat prostituted persons as victims, even when the prostituted person is a child well under the age of consent.  As for the customers or “johns” who pay for sex, here in the US they remain largely faceless and outside the law.

Sweden is taking a fundamentally different view.  By looking at the whole situation, Sweden sees a larger picture where the customer who is paying for sex is the criminal and the prostituted woman or child is the victim.  Here in the U.S., we’re not seeing that bigger picture.  Our focus is solely on the prostitute, whether woman, man or child.  The nature of the exploitation isn’t named; and the person who is paying for sex (“customer”,“john”) remains largely outside our view. 

There is no reason we couldn’t borrow from Sweden’s law and introduce legislation in the U.S. that shifts the crime from the prostituted child or woman to the person paying for sex.  But to change our legislation, we need to change the hearts and minds of our legislators. Changing our view to the bigger picture is a good way to start.

[i] Source: Women in National Parliaments. Info compiled by the Inter Parliamentary Union, based on information provided by National Parliaments as of Dec. 31, 2009 available at http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm


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The Swedish Approach to Prostitution, Part I

For the past eleven years, Sweden has taken a unique approach to prostitution.  In 1999, the Swedish government passed a law making it a crime to pay for sex.  The selling of sex remains legal but people who pay for sex are charged with a crime.

The Swedish perception of prostitution as an aspect of male violence against women and children led to this unique approach to the issue.  The Swedish government “officially acknowledged [prostitution] as a form of exploitation of women and children and…a significant social problem,” saying that gender equality would remain “unattainable as long as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting them.”  By making it illegal to pay for sex, Sweden targeted the demand side of the commercial sex industry.

How is it working in Sweden?

Initially, there were very few arrests because police officers were reluctant to arrest people. Once the officers received in-depth training, however, things quickly changed.   A study conducted in 2004, just five years after the legislation came into force, found that Swedish brothels and massage parlors had disappeared, and street prostitution had been reduced by two thirds.   An article published in Sweden’s The Local newspaper in 2008 noted that Stockholm no longer has a red light district, and law enforcement officials now express strong support for the law because it has allowed them to tackle organized crime, which is often associated with prostitution.

Some supporters don’t feel the law goes far enough.  The law allows for men to be fined and serve up to six months in jail but as of 2008, no man had gone to jail and only 500 men (50 per year) had been convicted and fined.  Several legislators want tougher penalties and are calling for “more teeth” in the law.  This is concerning for anti-trafficking advocates who see victims of sex trafficking mixed with the victims of prostitution in practice.  Men who buy sex from a trafficking victim should be subject to much steeper penalties and the victim rescued and provided restorative services.

Some opponents criticize the law for failing to take into account sex workers’ opinions on this issue.  Some sex workers’ organizations believe women have a right to choose prostitution as a life and work choice, and they resent the government’s interference in this business of prostitution.  Other opponents say that Sweden’s law hasn’t really reduced demand but has simply pushed prostitution underground – onto the Internet and into women’s homes­- making it more dangerous for prostitutes.

Regardless of the debate, a recent study showed that support remains high among the Swedish people, with 80% continuing to support the legislation.  Other countries, including Finland, Norway, Scotland and Britain have been influenced by Sweden’s approach, considering or passing legislation that makes it illegal to pay for sex.

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