Washington Area Women's Foundation

FAIR Fund: 'At least I am not dead, but I am still out here.'

Pimps were everywhere.

That is the first thing that I noticed when I arrived with a colleague in downtown D.C. late in the night last week to conduct outreach to prostituted teen girls. And, the police seemed to be out in large numbers, too.

So, if it’s so easy for us to find the pimps and traffickers, then why don’t the police just arrest and prosecute them – like the 2008 conviction and 96 month sentencing of Levar Simms for the prostitution of a 16 year old minor across state lines?

We hung back and watched young women, most of whom looked between the ages of 20 and 25 but could have been in their teens, as they stood on the corners and watched men go by in cars. The cars would slow down and a girl would look back to her pimp to see if she should get in the car.

Other times, a girl would be alone.

I handed some girls food and my colleague would hand them outreach cards with a hotline number for trafficked persons. As one very thin young woman with a black eye said, “At least I am not dead, but I am still out here.”

Then, she turned to follow a potential client’s car down the street.

A pimp is someone who forces someone else, usually a very young girl, to have sex for money. The pimp takes the money that the girl “earns,” and does so successfully because they are abusive and manipulative. They have strict rules, strict quotas, and dole out punishments to the girls in their "stable".

As some of the teens in our D.C. classrooms told us “Pimps Up, Hoes Down,” which means that if a girl is walking down the sidewalk and another pimp walks onto that street, she must go into the street and cross over.

I find it very disturbing that any 14-year old girl would know so much about prostitution.

Pimps run the largest growing criminal industry by exploiting girls across the globe.  So, how is it that these pimps are just standing around on 14th and K in downtown D.C.?

Pimping is illegal in Washington, D.C., as is prostitution and solicitation. And, if you are minor involved in commercial sex it is considered a form of human trafficking. As a member of the D.C. Anti Trafficking Task Force, our organization, FAIR Fund, has trained some very caring police officers in how to identify and assist victims of trafficking.

Still, the problem is everywhere on the streets – and what seems worse – increasingly moving online.

There are several reasons why an arrest for pimping and paying for sex is so difficult. 

First, both parties would essentially have to incriminate themselves. FAIR Fund has found, though, that the true barrier to ending sex trafficking of minors here in D.C. is that there are few incentives for a young girl (or boy) who is identified to testify against their exploiter because law enforcement and outreach organizations that work to help young victims have very few options to present to him or her.

Typically, she is jailed as the only means of detaining her – not exactly a comforting environment.  Nevermind the irony that In a city where a 15-year old is too young to consent to sex, she can still be charged for prostitution.

And, because there is not a single safe space designed in the District or surrounding areas that is available for a teenager who is being commercially sexually exploited, life away from a pimp means hunger, homelessness, and an uncertain amount of abuse. Trying to convince that young person to testify against her trafficker could very well seem more risky than it does safe.

Imagine, though, if there was a space for these young victims to be safe from their violent exploiters. A space where the District Attorneys Office, our Metropolitan Police Department, and local nonprofits would be able to direct a young victim to the services and support that she needs while advocates are busy working to build a case against a trafficking and pimping network.

Perhaps, then, she might feel supported enough to press charges against a man that has put her on the street since she was 13.

Perhaps, then, she might be the key to arresting, prosecuting, and jailing what we would argue are some of the most dangerous criminals in Washington, D.C. 

Perhaps, then, the scene on the streets would change and the pimps wouldn’t be everywhere.

Andrea Powell is co-founder and executive director of FAIR Fund, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation.  She co-wrote this blog with FAIR Fund’s development officer Amelia Korangy.