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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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Senate proposes legislation to address sex trafficking of American youth

In our own backyard, children are prostituted on main streets across America.  Instead of shying away from the uncomfortable reality that over 100,000 U.S. children are prostituted every year within U.S. borders, the Senate has instead proposed legislation to address this troubling reality.

On February 24, 2010, the Senate Judiciary Committee invited experts in the field of child sex trafficking to weigh in on recent legislation introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and co-sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Al Franken (D-Min.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2009 aims to provide large block grants to provide shelter and services to survivors of child sex trafficking and to provide funding to implement improvements on tracking missing and exploited children.

As the key senator behind the bill, Senator Wyden explained that child sex trafficking in the United States is a multi-billion dollar business and once a child is involved, it’s very difficult for the child to get out.  “We need to be clear that we are not going to sacrifice our children to pimps.” 

Senator Durbin (D-Ill.) drew attention to how young children are when they are recruited into sex trafficking, often in their early teens (13 is the average age). “….The scourge of human trafficking continues to plague our nation and our world,” said the Senator. “There is no more heartbreaking part of this problem than the sexual exploitation of children.”

On a well-balanced panel representing many aspect of the field, each panelist highlighted the importance of treating the child as a victim, providing appropriate services for the survivor and setting effective deterrence against buying sex with children.

What was most welcomed, however, was the voice of a survivor of child sex trafficking. Shaqwanna is a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking and currently an outreach volunteer at GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, founded by Rachel Lloyd, also on the panel). Shaqwanna spoke of the need to provide safe shelter for this vulnerable population.

“Girls need support, not jail,” emphasized Shaqwanna. “We need a safe place and people who will be patient and non-judgmental so we can start our lives over.”

Currently, there are very few safe places for a child to go – less than 60 beds in the entire United States. Without a safe place for a child to go, it’s easier to return to the pimp who provides basic needs like shelter and food.   Anita Alvarez, a prosecutor in Cook County, Ill., told of a child with a mother addicted to drugs. The pimp provided the child with food and clothing, and the child was reluctant to report him.  “He gives me a Subway sandwich whenever I ask,” the child said.

However, it was Senator Franken who highlighted the role of the male who is supporting the demand for commercial exploitation of children. “What about the men, the American men who are paying for sex with children?” asked Franken. “The ‘johns,’ the adult males who visit prostitutes, are the ones who should be prosecuted. They are the ones who should be in prison.”                                                                            

In response, speakers called for tougher state laws to prosecute men who pay for sex with children, language that currently isn’t strong enough in the proposed legislation.  Studies have shown that men who buy sex don’t care what age the woman/girl is, but they do care about being stigmatized and embarrassed.

The Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2009 is not only important for the safety of America’s children, but also to set a benchmark for other countries to replicate. Ambassador Luis Cdebaca, Ambassador at Large to Combat Human Trafficking, plans to assess the United States in the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report. “We in the U.S. need to do an honest self-assessment. NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that work in this area serve as the ‘conscience of the community.’”

However, until legislation is passed to strengthen our response to domestic minor sex trafficking, the Ambassador highlighted the importance of helping all victims of child sexual exploitation.  “It doesn’t matter if the victim once consented or returned to the pimp; it doesn’t matter if the chains were psychological or physical and whether the acts taken by the pimps inspired feelings of love or fear in the victim. This is still a victim.”

Please visit our website (www.sharedhope.org) to read more about the Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2009, watch the Senate Hearing and read President Linda Smith’s Testimony.

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