Close your eyes and picture a pimp. What did you see? Based on what the media tells us pimps look like, you probably saw an African-American man in his 30s or 40s with ostentatious clothes and maybe a massive, bejeweled cup. I'm going to guess you didn't see a 31-year-old white woman with long, curly blond hair. But that's exactly what one of two women recently charged with pimping-related crimes in Michigan looks like. Female pimps and traffickers are no myth, and they are more common than you might think. But what is it that makes a woman sell another woman (or a girl), for profit? What makes a pimpette, a pimpette?
Take the example of Jenny Lynn Demello, the blonde woman from Michigan. Jenny Lynn and her friend Kelly Marie Smith were caught at a Red Roof Inn with two younger women -- 18 and 19 -- running a small prostitution ring. Demello had posted photos of the younger women on Backpage.com in exchange for 25% of their earnings. According to police reports, Demello and Smith recruited the younger women into prostitution and were acting as their pimps. Since both the young women were legally adults, and there was no indication Demello and Smith used force, fraud, or coercion to get the women into prostitution, there was no human trafficking. But since they profited from and to some degree controlled other women, they can legally be considered pimps.
Jenny Lynn Demello and other female pimps aren't that rare. In fact, women can be just a brutal and abusive as pimps and traffickers as men can be. Demographically, there are more male pimps than female pimps, but female pimps are common enough that they shouldn't be ignored.
How do women become pimps? Many of them start out in prostitution, either as adults or children. For some women, becoming a close, trusted supporter of their pimp is a survival strategy to avoid violence and rape from the pimp. Pimps often refer to their best, closest women as their "bottom bitch" or just "bottom." As a pimp's stable of girls grows, he sometimes relies on his "bottom" to recruit or manage some of the women, in exchange for a small cut of the profit. In this way, some women transition from prostitution to pimping.
Not all women who go into pimping and trafficking other women have histories of sexual abuse or prostitution themselves, but a large number do. The Heidi Fleiss's of the world are rare. The women who are recruited into prostitution as teens and struggle to make a life for themselves, even if it means recruiting other women, are much more common. But no matter how they get there, you can't pick out a pimp by his -- or her -- look alone.