Pimping Music, Not People: The DHP’s Efforts to Fight the Sex Trafficking of Children

I named the band Dance Hall Pimps before we ever played publicly, before anyone would have guessed we would sign a record deal and have fans all over the U.S. and U.K. The band name also preceded our social mission represented by our tag line: Pimp Music Not People. How I came to link the DHPs with efforts to fight human trafficking, particularly the trafficking of children in America, is the story of how I came to be confronted by the modern ugly truth of what Pimps do to their victims.

We started out playing short set gigs in the LA underground cabaret scene, and after a couple of outings we needed a name. I turned to an old stinky book in the noire section of my library of old stinky books: the Dictionary of American Underworld Lingo (Twayne Publishers, 1950). I found Dance Hall Pimp and knew immediately that was it.

A “dance hall pimp” was a guy who ran taxi dancers—women who charged money for dances. As a band name it described that hip-swaying foot-stomping retro sound we go for. It had attitude, and it sounded… fun. After all, we’re a fun band. I was not bothered by the word pimp – having come to accept its use to describe anything over-the-top and showy…like us.

When the DHP’s became professional, it was time to identify a social cause or issue to support. I am committed to accompany each professional endeavor among the various things I do with a commitment to give back – not in a big showy way, but simply to honor the idea that with each success comes an equal measure of social responsibility. But I was sort of stumped, unable to identify the right issue for the DHPs.

My wife Deborah is involved in an amazing organization, the Everychild Foundation. One night, Everychild hosted a salon focusing on the issue of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST), which is the trafficking of children in the American sex trade. We heard from a federal prosecutor and a documentary filmmaker, each armed with personal experience as well as with verified and alarming statistics.

They said “pimp” a lot that evening. And they didn’t mean the kind of fun music-making pimp I purported to be. They said it with disdain and contempt. I didn’t want to emulate or glamorize the pimps they knew, pimps that trafficked minors by psychological and physical coercion, by exploiting vulnerabilities, by threats and acts of horrific violence, by kidnapping, rape, and torture.

Imagine me there, the showy frontman of the Dance Hall Pimps, being confronted by the sad and sickening realities of modern pimping told by people who knew what they were talking about.

I considered changing our name, but ultimately concluded that it was not the word “pimp” that hurt people, but the act of pimping and the purchase of what they pimped—people…kids. I know that some courageous fighters on the DMST issue may disagree that the word “pimp” can ever be acceptable. Still, as an artist, I can’t condone anyone becoming the word police. I oppose or support what people do—not what they say.

However, I knew that the DHPs had to do more than merely clarify that we don’t glorify pimping. The DHPs had to actively support efforts against coerced sex trafficking with a particular emphasis on rescuing children from “the life” which is no life for any kid—while also respecting sex-positive freedoms among adults.

Deborah and I committed ourselves with the band to support organizations that rescue and provide services to victims of DMST and that advocate for legislative changes to protect child victims rather than prosecute them. We have also committed to give a portion of our profits to support such organizations. We learn more about this issue each day.

We try to assure the accuracy of the facts and statistics we rely on before sharing them with DHP fans and the public, but recognize there is some heated debate over whether the statistics being used by state and federal government and anti-trafficking organizations are accurate or misleading (for example, whether the average age of entry into prostitution is 13 and the number of children at risk for sexploitation). Frankly, while we believe accuracy is paramount, there is no question children are being sexually exploited, and this country’s general approach to the problem—treating kids as criminals instead of kids in need of help—must change now.

We hope the heightened awareness currently galvanizing around this issue will lead to accurate data gathering—no easy feat in many research areas, but especially one like this where victims, suspicious of law enforcement with good reason, are unwilling to be candid. In the meantime, we can work to make fundamental, meaningful changes now. Several states have begun doing so by treating children as victims, not criminals—for example, New York, Connecticut, Illinois and Georgia. California recently made progress by passing the Abolition of Child Commerce Exploitation & Sexual Slavery Act, which increases fines for people convicted of having sex with children for money to the same fines as people convicted of statutory rape. (How Johns were ever treated less severely than statutory rapists is mind boggling!) Those fines will be used to fund service programs. We aim to do our part in keeping this ball rolling.

Still, the DHPs are entertainers, not crusaders. Our job is to deliver music and shows and web content our fans enjoy, and we love doing it. We write songs that are often twisted even dark or playfully shocking. We blog and banter about film, fashion, pop culture, and absurdities of all kind. And we will occasionally share information with our fans about DMST which is part of our ongoing efforts to raise awareness, promote change, and remind everyone that we Pimp Music Not People.

- RJ

For more information about DMST and organizations that provide services to victims:

Shared Hope: http://www.sharedhope.org/whatwedo/prevent/training/dmst.aspx

Shared Hope’s National Report on DMST: http://www.sharedhope.org/Resources/TheNationalReport.aspx

The Polaris Project: http://www.polarisproject.org/

GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Service): http://www.gems-girls.org/

Read, Girls Like Us, by Rachel Lloyd, founder of GEMS: http://tinyurl.com/3udzdln

See, Very Young Girls, a documentary focusing on GEMS work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fX6EaHuRCg

Demi and Ashton Foundation: http://www.demiandashton.org/

Child Rescue: http://www.childrescue.org/

Illinois’s exemplary law (press release and video): http://tinyurl.com/3ovdc8u

California’s newly enacted Abolition of Child Commerce Exploitation & Sexual Slavery Act: http://www.insidebayarea.com/argus/localnews/ci_18464463?source=rss

Streetlight, an organization in Arizona taking a collaborative approach: http://streetlightphx.com/

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