With each passing year, every child has rites of passage they look forward to. Birthdays are a gateway to enjoying a new adult privilege or responsibility. At 16, teens learn to drive. At 18, young adults have their first opportunity to voice their opinion at the polls. When a young adult turns 21, they are legally granted nearly all of the remaining privileges and responsibilities of a full-fledged adult.
The world of trafficking has its own rites of passage, typically dispensed by the pimp.
“K” is a millennial from Columbus, Ohio. Our counter-trafficking team recently identified her through escort ads placed by her pimp.
We assessed that “K” was groomed on social media by her pimp when she was still a minor. For her 18th birthday, “K’s” pimp gave her a specific tattoo. This permanent mark signified “K’s” commitment to her pimp, and her reward was that he could finally legally “turn her out” — meaning he could openly sell her for sex without risking a trafficking charge.
Once a victim turns 18, law enforcement can only charge a pimp with prostitution. The legal punishment is relatively insignificant, meaning that there is little deterrent to convince pimps that their “business” is not worth it. The fact is that a trafficking charge involving the sale of someone under 18-years-old can come with a penalty upwards of 25 years in prison, while trafficking an adult is far less consequential.
For “K,” this wasn’t her last rite of passage in the pimp’s “stable.” At 19, “K’s” pimp gifted her a second tattoo that likely signified her elite status as a “bottom” or head girl. This “reward” means she is now a recruiter of new girls and the most relied upon member of the pimp’s stable.
A rite of passage should remain a celebratory event shared with family and friends. However, when pimps avoid trafficking charges by skirting the law and turn birthdays into their own convoluted rites of passage we have to wonder how long our society will allow them to get away with it.