Call Ghislaine Maxwell What She Is: A Pimp

Ghislaine Maxwell doesn’t look the part of a pimp, as scripted by popular culture. But in reality, a pimp is more likely to resemble Maxwell or Jeffrey Epstein: white, wealthy and well-connected.

Ghislaine Maxwell on her father Robert Maxwell’s superyacht, the Lady Ghislaine, in the early 2000s. (Mathieu Polak / Sygma via Getty Images)

The verdict is in: Ghislaine Maxwell is guilty of sexual crimes against children. Her victims, we hope, will now find a measure of solace and healing, perhaps regain some of the wholeness that Maxwell so brutally ripped from them. 

Duly convicted, Maxwell is now a “sex offender” or “sex trafficker.” But we prefer to call her what she is: a “pimp.” The crude word cuts to the chase, stripping away the façade of upper-crust refinement that Maxwell used to conceal her brutality. Yet the media balks at calling her a pimp. Why? The answer is racism.

Like any pimp, Maxwell groomed girls for sexual servitude, to pleasure Epstein, his predatory cronies and herself. Of course, Maxwell is a white, wealthy woman. She attended an elite school in the English countryside, read modern history and languages, and earned an Oxford degree. In short, Maxwell doesn’t look the part of a pimp, at least as scripted by popular culture.

That image, honed by centuries of racism, is reserved instead for under-privileged, under-educated Black men from the inner-city. This image of the pimp—hardened by the ‘hood,’ festooned with tats and bling, lit by his own bravado—is celebrated by porn as well as hip-hop.

This cliché came together in Hustler magazine’s production and promotion of Snoop Dogg’s 2002 pornographic film, “Hustlaz: Diary of a Pimp.” Hustler was the flagship of Larry Flynt’s porn empire, which made millions promoting rank racism to its largely white audience by representing Black sexuality as monstrous and insatiable—in a phrase, pimps and hos. Ironically, Snoop Dogg’s movie, which earned Flynt, a white man, untold millions, won the “Best Ethnic-Themed Release – Black” award at the adult film industry’s annual gala. 

The American obsession with the image of the Black pimp continues to pervade mainstream porn, especially on freely-available ‘tube sites,’ which is how most kids today learn about sex. Porn is the last bastion of popular culture that grants unfettered reign to rabid racism.

In porn, as well as in popular culture, pimps are Black men who prey on vulnerable women, both Black and white. But this caricature of the pimp is not supported by federal crime statistics. In the latest data released by the Department of Justice, 57 percent of sex trafficking defendants were white, more than twice the rate of Black defendants. For most white Americans, who continue to live in racially and ethnically exclusive neighborhoods, the flashy Black man who represents the quintessential pimp is, in reality, more likely to be the white guy next door.

Fifty-seven percent of sex trafficking defendants are white—more than twice the rate of Black defendants.

Type “pimp” into PornHub, for example, and the website shows the hashtags “blacked” and “black pimp rough.” On Xvideos, the world’s most visited porn site, a query for “pimp” brings up “ghetto,” “black domination,” “hood” and “fine ebony ho.”

Search “pimp” on xHamster, another popular porn site, and you will readily see titles that fit the same script, including “gansta pimpin,” “ghetto sluts,” “pimpin in the projects” and “wife pimped to blacks.” True, one also sees white men in “pimp” videos. But they are generally dressed in hip-hop attire, and so reinforce the same racist message. In fact, xHamster devotes an entire category to “black pimped.” There is no “white pimped.”

Even Google’s algorithms sustain this bias. The men who appeared at the top of the screen after an image search for “pimp” were dressed in gaudy, fur-trimmed coats with wide-brimmed, feathered hats. They showed a preference for leopard-skin prints, bejeweled canes and bright golden necklaces dangling dollar signs. Central casting could not have done it better.

In reality, a pimp is more likely to resemble Maxwell or Jeffrey Epstein, who lived in an expensive mansion on New York City’s posh Upper East Side and owned properties in Palm Beach and the U.S. Virgin Islands, all playgrounds of the rich and famous. For Jeffrey Epstein, like Maxwell, used his whiteness, wealth and high society connections to cover for his sexual crimes against girls—in his case, rape. He was so unlike the stereotypical pimp of porn and pop culture that even after he pled guilty for “procuring a child for prostitution” and was required to register as a sex offender, Harvard appointed him a visiting fellow in its psychology department and MIT’s Media Lab slobbered over his ill-begotten dollars. 

Maxwell’s guilt is a win for survivors everywhere. But if we are serious about ending trafficking of all girls by future Ghislaine Maxwells and Jeffrey Epsteins, we should not allow ourselves to be seduced by racist images of porn and pop culture. For these images render invisible the reality that erudite, rich and sophisticated white pimps, and their equally well-connected shills, sexually exploit girls in plain sight.

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About and

Gail Dines, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of sociology, and president of Culture Reframed. Her latest book, Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked Our Sexuality, has been translated into five languages.
Eric Silverman, Ph.D., is a former professor of anthropology and is also affiliated with the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.