Broken Narratives – why we’ve forgotten the pimp


Contributed by Leroy Lamar, Executive Director of Serenity’s Steps.

Those who have known me for more than 20 minutes know that I am an avid Disney fan.  I love all things Disney from their over-produced pop albums to the hidden Mickeys found in places like the storm drain covers in their theme parks. Most of all though, I love their movies. 

There are several reasons why I’m infatuated with Disney movies, but if I’m honest, I’d have to say that one of the main reasons is their simplicity. Disney characters aren’t terribly intricate or deep.  In fact, they seem to be merely stand-ins for the categories of good and evil.  To use a little Scholastic philosophical language, they are about as close to the forms of “hero” and villain” as one can get and I’m very happy with that. Never once did I ask myself, “I wonder what is causing Scar to act out like that? I wonder if he was bullied as a cub and is merely trying to regain some sense of power or control that he feels was taken from him.”  I just smile with a great sense of satisfaction when I see the hyenas devouring him even though it’s only via the shadows.  It’s simple and I love it.

But I’ve encountered a very serious problem when I take my simplistic, Disney paradigm and overlay it on the issues of sex work, trafficking and prostitution.  I try to tell the narrative like this:

Standing in the shadows is a dark, sinister man watching as innocent, young girls pass on their way to school.  As one little girl in a white dress with blue ribbons skips by, the evil man jumps from the bushes, throws her into an unmarked van, takes her to an unmarked house, and has his way with her.  While the loving parents of the girl cover every building and telephone pole in the city with missing child flyers, our ominous villain is selling our helpless victim to more dark, sinister men who care nothing for the souls of persons.  They are monsters, ripping away at her humanity.  But then comes the heroes–the outreach team, the police officer, Charles Ramsey –and our baby is saved. She is reunited with her amazingly wonderful parents to live happily ever after.


*Enter Tinker Bell*


My Twitter friend Brandon helped me realize the flaw in my narrative. One day while discussing the role porn producers play in a similar narrative, Brandon asked, “If the goal was to help pornstars exit the industry and find Jesus, why don’t these organizations and Christians care about me?  Shouldn’t they be working just as hard to get me out of the industry and find Jesus?  No. Because it doesn’t fit the narrative.  You gotta have a bad guy for everyone to hate or you won’t get the money.”

Crap. I’d forgotten that the pimp, the porn producer, the trick are all just as much human beings as the pornstars, dancers and prostitutes.  They come from similar broken lives and have similar scars.  The truth is that unlike Disney stories, real stories are complex.  Real people are complex.  The pimp didn’t grow up in the home with a loving father. He grew up watching man after man beat his mother.  In fact, all the men in his community beat their women. That’s just what men do.  So of course he beats his women when they step out of line.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I think pimping is disgusting and evil.  I think pimps should be arrested and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.  But what is my reaction when he (or she) is arrested and sentenced?  Is it the same reaction that my friend Katrina Owens–one of the strongest and most dedicated advocates for trafficking victims and prostitutes in the world–had upon hearing that a pimp here in Atlanta was sentenced to life in prison? Her eyes were full of tears.  It wasn’t because she didn’t want him to go to prison.  It was because another life was thrown away.  A young African-American male just became another statistic.  No one bothered to love him.  No one bothered to seek him out.  No one dared enter into authentic relationship with him.  He was the form of evil.  He was to be hated.  He was to be destroyed.

To be honest, I’m still having a hard time changing narratives.  I don’t get up in the morning and ask God to bring a pimps across my path so I can take them to lunch, but I am trying.  I tell my prostitute friends that their pimps have broken lives too.  I even offered to take one of these pimps to his job interview.  I check in with Brandon from time to time.  He just had a little girl and is in a stage of life to which I can definitely relate. I’m sure our conversations will be more about kids and parenting and less about morality, politics, truth and porn.  I pray that God grants them all mercy and grace.  The same mercy and grace He extends to the boys and girls who have been exploited. The same mercy and grace He extends towards me.  

On the days I feel like giving up

“I hate selling my body, but do you know why I do it? Because for a few minutes, I know that somebody wants me.  He chose me.”

When Leroy told me about his conversation with one of our women last week in which she made this statement, my heart broke.  That sinking, overwhelming feeling of defeat washed over me; the kind that comes when you know no matter how much you want to, you have no ability to change a situation.  Many times lately, I find myself feeling that the only thing left to do at the end of the day is grieve – grieve for the pain and suffering of our women living in a broken world that has treated them so unfairly.  And grieve for my absolute powerlessness to fix it. 

So what DO we do?  When life seems too hard, when our women are daily facing their demons, when we as a staff and volunteers struggle with secondhand scars?  How do we take on a problem so large, it threatens at times to swallow us whole?

We stop trying to “fix it.”  We exchange our desire for control for an outpouring of love to one another by just being present.  If we’re being honest, we are all struggling.  We all have our deep inner sins, hurts or fears that we wish no one else would see.  But it is in coming to the table together and baring our souls to one another that we find freedom in love redefined – unconditional acceptance and a genuine care for each other’s good.  

For me, this is a glimpse of God’s love, a testimony that He is always working.  I believe He uses people to act out the tangibleness of His love.  On the days I come home from work discouraged, I am learning to cling to the hope of His unwavering grace and goodness.  Even though I don’t understand why people have to go through such hard things, I do know that He is always there with us.  With me.  With Her. I know He is present when I see the little graces – a milestone She reaches when She passes Her permit test and is one step closer toward increased independence.  They often turn into recognition of larger graces – when I see Her begin to consistently make choices that benefit Her future rather than those that numb the pain of Her past.  

The woman who spoke the quote at the start of this post needed to feel chosen.  She needed to somehow feel loved even in the most distorted sense in order to hold onto hope.  Let’s take away the need for our women, for our friends, for our family and even for strangers to feel they need to look to anything less than pure, authentic love to feel wanted. Today, let’s choose each other, even as Jesus chose us.  Let’s embrace grace and be the hands and feet of a God who wants nothing more than to lavish His love on the hurting and broken.  

Contributed by Kate McGaughey – PR and Marketing Manager, Serenity’s Steps.