Staying with or Leaving a Pimp

Now that I’ve finished sharing all of the different sessions from the Demand Change Project, I am going to pick up where I left off with Girls Like Us, the memoir by Rachel Lloyd, survivor and founder of GEMS.

In chapters 9-11, Lloyd shares with us the psychological process behind why a women or girls stays with, leaves or relapses back to her pimp. In this post, I will share about the first two: staying with or leaving a pimp, and talk about relapse in a separate, but related blog post.


I have heard this question many times by people who ask why someone stays in any sort of abusive relationship: “Why did you stay?”

For one who has not experienced abuse firsthand (or is able to become incredibly empathetic and thus get a glimpse of the experience), it makes no sense.  It’s true. Abuse doesn’t make logical sense, but it makes psychological sense. Abusers all use the same tactics “kindness, violence, kindness, a bit more violence.” And while the abused victim may have opportunities to physically leave, psychologically, they don’t see that possibility.

Lloyd shares the Stockholm syndrome, where there are four factors that come into play:

1) a perceived threat to survival and the believe that one’s captor is willing to act on that threat

Lloyd shares how all women and girls in the life know the real threat of violence because they are beat themselves and see others get beaten.

2) the captive’s perception of small kindnesses from the captor within the context of terror

Lloyd shares stories about girls at GEMS who perceive kindness as love by their pimp. “He beat me less than the other girls.” “He put cocoa butter on my bruises.” So on and so forth.

For many girls, it literally takes writing down the times she felt loved and the times she felt hurt by the pimp to really see how much the hurt out ways the love. Which, if you stop to think about it, makes complete sense. When we are surrounded by trauma or pain, we latch on to the love and hope we feel–even if it is tiny. It’s not until we are in a place disconnected from that pain that we can start to see how it wasn’t truly love.

3) isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor

Lloyd goes on to describe how pimps isolate the girls from other perspectives–how they prey upon a girl’s past abuse or bad familial relationships to prove that the girl has no one to go back to. Police officers, social workers, etc. cannot be trusted. So on and so forth.

4) a perceived inability to escape

This is obviously linked to all of the other three. Lloyd shares her own journey, how she stayed with her pimp after his attempt to kill her because she did not see a way out–even though she could physically walk out the door, he could still find her, still hurt her.


Lloyd goes on to share how leaving often comes about when the women or girl hits rock bottom.  But once she is there…

“what makes the most difference whether a girl leaves or not when that door opens up is if she believes she has options, resources, somewhere to go, and the support she’ll need once she’s out…” Without that, “the door will close just as quickly as it opened, leaving her feeling trapped once more and this time even more convinced that this is the life she’s destined to lead” (pages 171-172).

This is why safe houses, transitional programs, trained law enforcement are so necessary to help a women or girl leave the life. If they do not believe there’s a safe place to go–she will not leave.

Once a girl actually decides to leave –fueled often by emotions like pain and anger–there are barriers that make staying “gone” difficult. For example, reconnecting with family, finding a job, learning basic living skills, getting education, clothing and obtaining basic needs are all extremely difficult. This is especially difficult when girls have been handed your basic needs (shelter, clothing, food) and maybe even extra things like getting their nails done (so they look good for clients) for years.

On top of this, disconnection from the life allows the girls to begin processing what happened to them. They often become depressed. Soon, the pimp and the life do not sound all that bad–it sure seems easier than where they are now.

“It feels like something is missing. You begin to believe it must be him, the life, or a combination of the two. Suddenly the initial euphoria is gone and you just feel sad and numb all the time. You don’t remember feeling like this when you were with him” (page 177).

During this stage, the girls and women need resources and consistent support and encouragement. They need to be reminded that life can get better, that leaving was the right thing to do.

But, Lloyd reminds us that “sometimes even with the services, support, love, and patience in place, it’s just not enough to break the trauma bonds the first time around, or the second, or the third. But this doesn’t mean we should stop trying, or that girls don’t want help.”(183)

So, besides understanding, what can we take away from this information?

We know that women and girls desperately need options. They need safe places to go and safe people to run to—perhaps many times. They also need supportive services and relationships to help them so that the burden of “normal life” is bearable. They need a time to process the trauma they have experienced and a supportive environment where they can heal. And they need to know that if they leave, they can always come back when they are ready.

So, we can invest in such programs and services. We can encourage people and groups to step up to be the supportive community. Our faith communities can provide a space of nonjudgmental healing and counseling. We can invest in mental health support, housing, shelter, employment programs, education, and more. We can provide basic needs, and we can encourage them.