It's bad enough for a girl to be owned by a pimp. But imagine being owned by an entire gang. That's what's happening in cities and towns across America, as more and more gangs discover just how lucrative the sex trafficking business can be. It's become so prevalent, in fact, that law enforcement has an official term for it: gang pimping. Police and prosecutors are getting wise to the trend and cracking down on this new breed of thug entrepreneurs. Federal, state and local agents have worked together in recent months to arrest dozens of alleged gang pimps - from a massive crackdown in Oceanside, Calif., to "Operation Little Girl Lost" in Chicago, to a nationwide initiative called "Operation Cross Country" aimed at rescuing teenage girls from the clutches of prostitution and sex-trafficking rings.
San Diego Deputy District Attorney Gretchen Means is at the forefront of the fight to prosecute gang pimps. "Gang pimping has turned sex trafficking a little bit on its head," Means told AMW. "Gangs pimp in a very different way. Gangs are pimping together, using each other. So a prostitute is not just beholden to her pimp; she is often beholden to the entire gang. In some jurisdictions criminal street gangs are over 400 members strong. And if you think how coercive and manipulative it could be to have this relationship with one person, if you multiply that by 400 and then you add all of the layers of the intimidation and violence that is inherent in a criminal street gang you have a much different relationship with a pimp and a prostitute."
Means says the hyper-sexualization of our culture in general, and social media in particular, have fueled the gang pimping enterprise. Gang pimps use You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, Craig's List, Backpage and other social media sites to glorify the pimp-prostitute lifestyle and lure impressionable and vulnerable girls from all walks of life. But once "in," the girls are not only trapped - they're often marked for life with the names of their gang pimp. "It is common for pimps to brand their girls or tattoo them," Means explains. "It is a way for her to not just advertise who she belongs to and whose property she is, but also as a way to remind her that she's not hers, she's his.
Unlike drug trafficking and gun sales, pimping provides gangs with a low-risk, high-return enterprise. "You can sell a gun one at a time. You can sell rock cocaine one bag at a time. [But] you can sell a girl over and over and over again," Means says.
More and more, prosecutors are using a variety of prostitution, human trafficking and racketeering laws to criminalize gang pimping and put the offenders behind bars.
"Has it deterred them?" Means wonders. "I doubt it. But the best we can do for justice is keep trying and keep fighting."