A Pimp's Playbook: How a former pimp talked his way into women's lives

Galen Harper
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SEATTLE — Galen Harper sits on the steps of his trailer and admires a figurine that he keeps near his door. 

"My mom gave me this," he said. "Every time I come in and leave, I know I don't want to be the thug."

It's a faceless statue of a man in a blue top hat. The man has a briefcase. He's dressed in a suit, tie and fancy shoes. 

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"It's reminding me. I got to make it," Harper said.  "I got my blue suede hat. I got my shoes. I got my briefcase. I got the attire. But I need to fit my life into this atmosphere. This is my goal." 

His goal today, he said, is to get a nine-to-five business job that pays the bills — legally, and to move away from the south Seattle "street life" that surrounds him. But his goal 15 years ago was to have "a house full of hoes."

"Women are like trophies in a sense," he said. "In the street life, (if) you (are) a pimp, you (are) the man." 

Harper, 39, said he left his life as a pimp behind in the early 2000s. But over more than 10 years, he "rented out" about 20 women for sex.

"We lived wherever was suitable — hotels, trailers. I had them sleeping in cars," he said. "I had a woman sleeping in a car with her baby." 

WATCH: Galen Harper's Story 

'They Couldn't Do Nothing Unless They Asked Me'

Hundreds of pimps and traffickers are exploiting kids and adults for sex in Washington every day. They each use their own strategies to manipulate and gain control of their victims, but experts say some qualities are always the same.

RELATED: Unshackled: A prostitute's journey to freedom 

"The motivation may be different for each of them, as far as whether it's power or control," said Sgt. Jaycin Diaz, who oversees sex trafficking cases in the Seattle Police Department's vice unit. "But at the end of the day, they see these girls as a commodity. It's about money."

The money was so important to Harper, he said he got physical with the women who refused to work or bring the money back.

"I had this one hoe. She used to always — I had to damn near choke the (explicative) out of her just to get her to — just to get her to want to go out," he said.  

RELATED: Need help?  Local resources for sex trafficking victims, prostitution survivors

That's how Harper kept control of the women. He made sure they knew his rules. 

"They couldn't do nothing unless they asked me," he said. "'You not doing nothing. Don't talk to nobody.' You know?"

But their stories didn't start with his physical abuse. First, Harper would flatter them with his words. 

"How would I break a woman? I would get you to trust me," he said. " When I get you to trust me, then I come on in."

'I'm Going To Work To Sell You A Story' 

Experts say pimps and traffickers aren't easy to pick out of a crowd because they're smooth talkers and charismatic. 

"You're not going to know per se that you're talking to a pimp right away. I mean, it could just be a guy asking you out. What you're going to notice is that he's going to try to control some of what you want to do," Diaz, the Seattle police sergeant, said. 

But often, pimps seek out people who are too naive to notice something isn't right. 

RELATED: Selling Girls: Sex traffickers are targeting American children 

Harper said he didn't waste his time with confident women. He said he would approach vulnerable people who were missing something in their lives, like love or the support of a family.

"Nine out of 10 times, they want a roof over their head, and they want something to grow," Harper said. "They want the same thing that a typical woman wants, but they're just in a darker situation or a deeper situation." 

Then, he would promise to fill the void. 

"'We're going to have all the cars. We're going to have all the money. You don't need nobody else. I got what you need. I understand you,'"  he said. "I'm going to work to sell you a story —  to sell you a dream — to make you feel that 'that's the guy I want.'"

"I know how to manipulate, and I got the gift of gab," he added.

Maurice Washington, an undercover Seattle detective who works both local and national sex trafficking cases, said that's a textbook strategy for most of the pimps he's met.

WATCH: How a pimp recruited victims in a mall 

Washington said pimps make their victims fall in love with them so they're easier to manipulate. The grooming process can take as long as a year. 

"Most of (the pimps) are really good at listening and hearing some of the challenges that some of these victims have in their lives," he said. "Then, their job is to sell them the thought that they can fix those problems — that if they don't have a home, they can provide them a home. If they don't have protection for being out on the streets, they can provide that. If they have a drug addiction, they can provide that." 

'It's Almost Like It's Taught At Times' 

Diaz, the undercover sergeant, said some pimps go to great lengths to learn the art of manipulation. 

He seen cases where the pimps have studied books on how to manipulate people, created PowerPoint presentations and even written down their own notes.

"We come in, and it's almost like a small little manuscript of five or seven pages of what they've done with the girl and how it's worked and what they're looking to accomplish," Diaz said. 

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"A lot of these exploiters learn from other pimps. Some have had fathers that may have pimped before. So this behavior, it's almost like it's taught at times," he added.  

Harper said he learned about pimping inside his own home. 

"Why did I do it? I saw my dad do it," he said. "As a child, you look to your father and you look to hook on to something that's good in your life as you grow and learn and understand about life. What was glamorized to us — what caught a kids attention — was the shiny things." 

"But honestly, pimping was just a way of life," he added. "Even if my dad didn't push us through it, it would have got to us."

'A Pimp Is The Devil's Best Friend'

In 2004, Harper got shot.

He said he found God that day, and he realized it was time to quit living wrong. 

"I've been blessed to make it out with my life and all my limbs and my sanity with a second chance. A lot of people don't get a second chance. Only cars get a second chance. Only cars get brand new grills," he said. 

But in this life, second chances don't always come with a fresh start. 

"I don't really remember the last day that I was a pimp," he said. "Because truth be told, pimping is always going to be in me."

Harper is not talking about pimping women. He's talking about his swagger — the charm he used before to do wrong. 

"I go, 'Listen, man, you can't out slick no slickster.' Yeah, I've changed but that slickness is still in me," he said. "I have the gift of influence. I can fluctuate and sway." 

The difference today is that Harper is using his words to come out of the dark. 

"You go through what you go through to learn," he said. "Not to become a better bad person."

And he's learned it's time to help others see the truth behind a pimp's words. 

"A pimp is the devils best friend. A pimp is the devil's little brother," he said. "You know the difference between good and bad, and you choose to be bad, and you choose it to benefit yourself."

This story is affiliated with Selling Girls, a nine-month nationwide investigation into sex trafficking. TEGNA, our parent company, launched the project at each of our 46 stations across the country to help hundreds of thousands of American kids who are lured into a life they didn't choose. To watch the six-part series and to follow KING 5's ongoing local coverage of sex trafficking in Washington state, click this link