Ask someone if they know what human trafficking is and they may get a confused look on their face and say something along the line of “That doesn’t happen in America” or rattle off statements about mail order brides and third world countries. But is this a really hard question to answer with the kinds of imagery that frequent social media, television, movies, and music? As you start to think about the ideas we are flooded with in day to day culture, you realize these stereotypes are so engrained in our day to day they are unknowingly perpetuated.
Ask someone what a pimp is or what the word means, many things may come to mind. The meaning of the word “pimp” has greatly shifted over time. Merriam-Webster defines “pimp” as: a criminal who is associated with, usually exerts control over, and lives off of the earnings of one or more prostitutes. While this may be the definition from a book shelf dictionary, pimp is a term that is seen as a compliment or term of affection more than a derogatory statement. When the word pimp is said, I think of many things- Nelly’s “Pimp Juice”, Snoop dog, Reba McEntire’s “Fancy”, 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P”, Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin”, MTV’s Pimp My Ride, 3 6 Mafia’s “Hard out Here for a Pimp” (Which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in Hustle and Flow), and so many other small pieces of pop culture that have been normalized in today’s culture.
On the other hand, ask someone about the victims of trafficking are often referred to and the words “prostitute”, “trick”, “hoe”, “whore”, “sex worker”, “hooker”, “call girl” quickly come to mind. Despite these terms being derogatory, at best, sex trafficking and prostitution have been glorified by American society for over 50 years through music and television. Images of country singer Reba McEntire singing her heart out about a small-town girl named Fancy, Julia Roberts being pulled off the streets and showered with gifts by Richard Gere in Pretty Woman (1990), a young Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey in Loverboy (1989) being a stud for hire, Patti Labelle’s soulful sounds of “Lady Marmalade”, “Killer Queen” by Queen, “Island Girl” by Elton John, “Call Me” by Blondie, and others come to mind.
“There is a continuum of sexual violence against women, from making lewd comments or jokes all the way up to sexual assault. When we accept the “less offensive” behaviors, such as jokes about sexual violence, it opens the door to the more aggressive behaviors and dynamics, like selling women for sex, becoming acceptable as well. We live in a society in which sexual violence towards women has been normalized.”1
At some point we have to ask ourselves, “Is society normalizing the sex trade?” and more importantly, “What can I do to combat this mindset?” Being self-aware and constantly evaluating your own views on violence against women is a great place to start. Recognize society continues to normalize “pimp culture” while there are still men, women, and children that fall victim to human trafficking in our own states and own cities. Get involved with local organizations working to combat the myths, stereotypes, and stigma of human trafficking. Staying up to date on relevant news coverage of this issue such as Tim Swaren’s Exploited Series, and shopping for Fair Trade certified goods are additional small steps to stay aware.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
1 Withers, M. (2017, April 27). Pimp culture glorification and sex trafficking. In Psychology Today. Retrieved May 14, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-day-slavery/201704/pimp-culture-glorification-and-sex-trafficking