Tag Archives: sex trafficking

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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Finding the face behind the numbers

 -by Larry Hawley

Larry Hawley is currently a Defenders Fellow for Shared Hope International, working in Florida to raise awareness on domestic minor sex trafficking through outreach and truck stop campaigns.


“If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”     -Mother Teresa

The issue of human trafficking, and sex trafficking in particular, can be overwhelming. 27 million people enslaved worldwide. Over 300,000 young girls at risk of being trafficked into the commercial sex industry in the United States alone. These numbers set our heads spinning and make us wonder: how we can sustain our compassion for those who are suffering when we are likely overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this issue?

Mother Theresa’s quote illustrates the difficulty faced by many NGO’s  – donations dry up and political will disappears once an issue becomes too large to emotionally process.  The charitable nature of human beings or their outrage against injustice is limited by a process called “psychic numbing” posited by Oregon professor Paul Slovic.  In simple terms, psychic numbing explains the phenomenon that human beings are more likely to act to stop the suffering of one human being than tackling ever-increasing numbers of human suffering.

 NGO’s that seek to end human trafficking worldwide must base their strategy on the studies of Dr. Slovic or will have their cries fall on deaf ears. Our brains can grasp the pain of our fellow man, but do not go through a process of multiplying this suffering amongst our fellow brethren. As Slovic says, “Numerical representations of human lives do not necessarily convey the importance of those lives. All too often the numbers represent dry statistics, “human beings with the tears dried off,” that lack feeling and fail to motivate action.”

The effects of psychic numbing are seen in the media coverage of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In the HBO documentary “Reporter”, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was followed on his journey to the DRC to document the atrocities.  Mr. Kristof has spent most of his career seeking out underreported large-scale human suffering in order to bring the stories back to mainland.  The DRC has lost nearly six million people over twelve years during the Second Congo War, the largest death toll in any war since WWII. 

Unfortunately, the magnitude of lives lost in the Congo has not been given justice through the media because raw numbers do not carry weight with audiences, as millions dead without personal stories mean little to our sympathetic eyes. Overall, mainstream media coverage of this conflict has been feeble at best, while natural disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti occupy a large portion of media consciousness due to the ability to ‘put a face’ to the tragedy.  Audiences have been responding to courageous individual stories of survival in Haiti with their dollars and hands while six million remains just a number.

Dr. Slovic’s theory should come as no surprise to a population overwhelmed by twenty-four hour news channels that often focus on two or three individual stories per cycle, i.e. the disappearance of Laci Peterson, the murder of Jon Benet Ramsey, or the recent death of Shaniya Davis. These stories garnered national attention because of our ability to relate to the one- an easily identifiable victim. News reporters everywhere have learned the value of the “human interest” story and flood the airwaves with personal details designed to capture our attention.  This practice is not limited to news desks, either.  A number of people have recently been exposed to the issue of sex trafficking from the Hollywood film, Taken

Even if Taken is not the typical trafficking situation, there is something about a story and an individual victim that we ‘get to know’ that draws us in and helps us relate to them. If stories of trafficking are not personalized to our country or neighborhood, we often turn a blind eye. This is ‘psychic numbing’ in practice. How do we make human trafficking REAL?

We in the anti-trafficking community need to tell twenty-seven million individual stories to the localities in which we serve in order to make the reality of trafficking resonate within our communities.  Scale is useful when lobbying politicians, but is overwhelming when engaging citizens in the fight.  Unfortunately, it is not hard to find a local story of a trafficking victim that looks, sounds, and acts like someone’s teenage daughter.  To make human trafficking real to the masses, it takes one story for each community in America.

“What does a child sex trafficking victim look like?” Like you used to look when you were a child…..

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There’s Nothing Super about Sex Trafficking

– by Larry Hawley, Defender

Super Bowl weekends in Miami have been remembered for Vince Lombardi’s final game, Joe Namath’s successful guarantee, Lynn Swann’s memorable catch, Jackie Smith’s memorable drop, Montana-to-Taylor, Steve Young and Peyton Manning’s first and only Super Bowl championship victories.  They’ve also been remembered for various off-the-field criminal activities — from Stanley Wilson’s late-night cocaine binge to Eugene Robinson’s attempted purchase of an undercover police officer for oral sex.  The National Football League loves Miami as a Super Bowl site for its abundance of entertainment options and its warm-weather climate during a cold winter in most of the country.  Miami brings nightlife fun whether on South Beach or in Fort Lauderdale that can be harmless for tourists and residents alike.  However, a drive down Biscayne Boulevard at 3am can offer vices that even athletes preparing for the biggest game of their lives fail to resist. 

Miami’s criminal activity is not unique amongst metropolitan cities in the United States nor is its increased criminality during large sporting events (i.e. the Super Bowl, Olympics, or World Cup).  Sex trafficking, however, is one crime more prevalent in Miami because of its attractiveness to potential buyers and its place as a hub for international business/immigration.  Miami houses many immigrants (more susceptible to traffickers), both legal and illegal; some reside in unassimilated areas like Little Havana or Little Haiti, while others live in wealthy areas like Miami Lakes or Coral Gables.  Business between US firms and firms in Latin America/Caribbean takes place in Downtown Miami/Fort Lauderdale which brings businessmen in and out of the cities on weekend trips with secret perks like massage parlors or street prostitutes.          

 Many victims of sex trafficking in South Florida are homeless  or runaway children who fall into the hands of child predators, pimps and traffickers.  StandUp  For Kids Miami identified 2300 homeless youth in Miami-Dade county alone.  Contributing to that number are missing foster children that should be monitored by the Florida Department of Children and Families, but have been lost over the last decade (See Rilya Wilson case, 2002).  Urban poverty also contributes to trafficking in South Florida in communities such as Liberty City and Overtown where citizens have been priced out of expensive housing developments and were forced to live in shantytowns as late as 2007. Regardless of their background, one thing is clear: These children that end up on the streets are immediately targeted for the commercial sex trade. For these reasons, Kristi House, Stand Up For Kids, and KlaasKIDS Foundation will be out in the South Florida community on Super Bowl weekend to bring awareness of potential trafficking to area hotels, businesses, and citizens. By raising awareness of such a crucial issue, lives can be saved. Hopefully, Super Bowl XLIV won’t be the only memorable event from this weekend.

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