Girls who have been sex trafficked understand the role of rules and power and authority. When in “the life” of being under complete domination of the pimp, there is a severe cost to those who dare to rebel against the absolute control that he wields. Generally, there is more than one girl in his household, and the women are positioned to work against each other to curry greater favor with the man.
Even when young ladies have been recovered from the sexual slavery and are in a residential facility for healing, the hierarchical mandates that they have learned come strongly into the picture. The staff at StreetLight Phoenix in Arizona witness and mediate between such disputes of the girls in their care on a regular basis.
Mary Wilson* is the Residential Manager for StreetLight Phoenix and explains how the structure of a pimp system operates and the challenges the girls face.
Describe how the hierarchy works within the pimp system:
- “Bottom girl” (aka Bottom B ….) is really the top runner in the “stable” — or the pimp’s “family” system of running a prostitution gig. This girls is someone who can and will do anything to exert power over the other women in the stable or “family”. Unfortunately, many times, it also means that she is the same woman who ultimately submits blindly to the pimp, and recieves the worst mind-game treatment from him. She thinks she’s on the pimp’s team, that she’s his number one girl, but he just uses her to manipulate, and truly she is his number one pawn. Many times the girls will form close bonds or friendships with the bottom girl, only to realize later when it’s too late that they have been played by her.
What are typical things a girls needs to do to get to the top of the pecking order?
- Sex. Coercion. She needs to be able to out-play (or manipulate) the other women. It’s all about power, and if she can exert power over the other girls in any way– and/or just MAKE them feel powerless to her, she wins up.
What privileges might she then have?
- She can take part in the punishment of the other girls, she might get better “treatment” by the pimp….sometimes….but any ‘fairer’ or ‘nicer’ treatment she recieves is JUST to play her and use her in the game the pimp plays. She is also beat harder and recieves worse punishment when she flies “out of pocket” (which is a term used to refer to when a girl disobeys a rule of “the game”) becaues of the supposed trust a pimp has in the bottom girl. This can even re-inforce her position to him when she “deserves” it.
Of the girls who have been at StreetLight, has it been typical for the pimps to have a “stable”? What is the average number of girls a pimp may have?
- It has happened both ways– it is rare for a pimp to ONLY work with one girl– but it does happen. I do not know the average number of girls, it could be 0-100. I don’t know.
How do the girls apply the hierachical structure to cottage life?
- Unfortunately, many times, this hierarchical structure is all they have ever known, and it’s the only way they know to relate to one another. They have been re-programmed by the best masterminds in the world to submit to power, and fight for it. It causes them to relate to those around them in this constant-battle-winning sort of way. The troubling thing is is that from a VERY young age, most of them have not known honest, loving, empowering and respectful relationships, so it’s therefore not something you change overnight. JUST because the girls are now in a ‘safe’, ‘consistent’ environment, it doesn’t change that programming. Their internal compass is way off, especially as they relate to other females. All of the girls fight with this power struggle.
How do the caregivers deal with those issues?
- The issues of power come up in our own hearts. We have to fight HARD on a daily basis to retain that honest, loving, empowering and respectful relationship for each of the girls. And for each of the girls, it looks different. Remaining in a neutral place, but setting boundries (creating an environment for them to learn true empowerment) can be VERY challangeing to maintain when the girls use the skills they have in manipulation and control on us (the caregivers), which they do daily :-)
What are some of the tools you use to help move the girls out of the power mindset?
- As I stated in the last question, I think setting healthy boundries is huge. For a child who has never (or rarely) known safety, someone giving her a “safe place” by demonstrating and drawing those boundary lines is huge. It can give the survivors the opportunity to experience REAL empowerment and trust. Trust in themselves, and trust in others. Until we form those healthy lines with them, we can not expect them to change.
What else would you like to share?
- I think the only other sentiment I would mention on this issue is that it REALLY is a life long battle to form TRUE self-identity, worth and empowerment for children who have been sexually exploited. Taking a girl out of “the life” and putting her here doesn’t take “the life” out of the girl. Only God can do that. We’re hoping that by creating an environment for change, they CAN decide to walk in that freedom. Deciding for themselves equals empowerment.
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(c) 2011 Holly Craw. All rights reserved. You may link to this article or take an excerpt with due attribution to the author and a link back to this original article. Mention your link below to get a shoutout.
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