Often, human trafficking victims don't leave their situation because of "invisible chains" — forms of emotional, mental, or cultural coercion which keep them trapped. But sometimes, that which keeps trafficking victims enslaved is as visible as a dog cage on the floor of a motel room. And that's exactly where one 21-year-old woman spent the night, after her pimp locked her in there for trying to leave prostitution.
David Lee Walker, a pimp who operated in the metro Atlanta area, controlled at least five women, all between the ages of 20 and 24. They operated out of motel just south of the city. But one night, apparently, one of the girls decided she had had enough and wanted to leave. When Walker wasn't around, she fled to a nearby restaurant to look for help. But Walker found out, and he ordered the other women he controlled to bring her back to their motel. Walker and the women beat the 21-year-old with a bottle until her eyes swelled shut and there was a hole in her head. Then, one of the women locked her in the dog cage and left her there overnight, with injuries untreated.
As shocking and brutal as this treatment is, it's far from unusual. A woman or girl represents a huge financial investment for a pimp, and he is often willing to resort to brutal violence in order to prevent her from leaving. Pimps also pit women against each other. Forcing women to "discipline" each other by administering beatings, denying food, and degrading each other further serves to lower their self-esteem and keep them under his control.
The four women who, at Walker's direction, beat and caged another human being are also being charged with assault. What's not being brought up in this case, however, is the complete psychological control pimps can have over the women they sell. Pimps use a combination of false promises, isolation, violence, and rewards to make the women and girls in their "stable" totally dependent on them. Could these four women have refused to beat their "sister"? Yes. Could they have run too? Yes. But they've seen first hand what happens to those who disobey the pimp — a brutal beating and a night in a dog cage. Even more powerfully, though, they've seen what happens to the ones who make the pimp happy — gifts, special treatment, and even sex.
Pimps brainwash the women they control to believe that no reality exists outside the one created by the pimp. Imagine how difficult it is to break out of that. The women who were the aggressors in this case were very likely themselves, at one point, the one being "punished." Does that make them wicked and the 21-year-old good? No. But it doesn't make them blameless, either. The cycle of pimp control and violence is very like the cycle of domestic violence. It traps people and pushes them to do things they wouldn't otherwise do.
But as complex as it is, the cycle can be traced back to Walker. He's the reason a young woman was beaten and locked in a cage, and he's the reason four others participated in it. But even then the cycle doesn't stop. Because Walker wasn't born a violent pimp; he became one through some combination of circumstance and choice. Maybe the pimps in his neighborhood while he was growing up were the only ones who made decent money. Maybe he was abused himself as a child. Maybe he had a great childhood, and just wanted to become a pimp. I don't know.
Either way, Walker and the five women in this case are all part of a larger culture which allows violent pimps to thrive while abusing young women and girls. It's what keeps women in prostitution when they want to leave. And when that culture dominates, then we're all of us living in cages