Portions of this post were originally reported by KRCA3. 5-minute read.
If you’re tuned in to current events, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that child sex trafficking is a hot topic right now.
Amidst the bleak stories that hint at how little this topic is addressed in the U.S., there are stories that shine a light in the bleak darkness of child exploitation.
Recently, news broke that a trafficked 14-year-old from Michigan was able to save herself and two other exploited women because of a text she sent to a trafficking crisis hotline.
According to reports, the teen, whose name has not been released, was being held against her will and forced to engage in prostitution. San Jose police said she was reported as a missing runaway in Michigan on Sept. 1, 2018. Eventually, she ended up in Chicago where she was forcibly taken to Indiana, and later to California.
During that time, she was taken from city to city where sex buyers paid to rape her.
But her nightmare stopped the day she was able to save herself and two others by texting a crisis hotline and giving out her location. That lone act helped unmask a sex trafficking ring in California and led to the arrest of at least three traffickers. How cool is that?
Three men were taken into custody for charges related to human trafficking, according to the San Jose police. Christopher Johnson, 39, and Antoine Williams, 43, were charged with felony human trafficking, pimping and pandering, and kidnapping. Suspect Curtis Russell, 59, was charged with human trafficking and pimping.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888. They can be texted at 233733.
Exploitation stats from around the world
Unfortunately, stories with outcomes like this one are remembered for being outliers, while the crime behind them is much more normal than we probably realize.
Polaris, one of the largest nonprofits fighting sex trafficking in the U.S., reports that over 40,000 sex trafficking cases have been identified on the National Human Trafficking Hotline and the BeFree Textline; this forms the largest dataset that we have in the U.S. about sex trafficking.
Why is this a big deal? Check this: Information on the underground sex market is hard to come by, even though research tries to capture its true size, estimated by Polaris in the hundreds of thousands. Sex trafficking is notoriously underreported to due lack of resources or awareness, meaning that those 40,000 identified cases are likely only the tip of the iceberg. Add that to the fact that most of the information we receive is based on survivors and their reports, but as there is serious underreporting—you see the problem.
It’s difficult to know the real numbers and it’s difficult to then solve the problem, though it’s reasonable to assume it’s bigger than what can be measured right now. The stats we do have support a similar idea. Polaris found an increase in 13% in the number of cases identified from 2016 to 2017, and with a growing industry, cashing in at over $99 billion annually according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the sex trafficking industry is no small player in the underground economy.
When you look a little further, you find that children make up around 21% of human trafficking victims. When we talk specifically about the the 4.8 million victims globally of sexual human trafficking, 99% of them are women and girls, with the average age of a child sexually trafficked being 15-years-old according to NCMEC.
Are sex trafficking and porn connected?
At this point, you may be thinking, “What does this all have to do with porn?” We’re glad you asked.
Most people seem to think these industries aren’t connected, or if they are, it’s coincidental. But the porn industry is full of exploitation, and it can find itself at the intersection of what is legal and what is not.
Dr. Karen Countryman-Roswurm, Ph.D., LMSW, Founding Executive Director for the Wichita State University, Center for Combating Human Trafficking, says that when it comes to human trafficking cases, “pornography is a common thread.” What’s more, in the Protection Project Journal of Human Rights and Civil Society, it was argued that “curbing pornography can reduce sex trafficking.”
But what exactly do these two industries have to do with one another?
How extreme content is normalized
As the porn industry is increasingly focused on creating more violent content with younger performers (you can check out the stats that model that trend), it’s walking a fine line of normalizing what can look, and sometimes has been found to be, sex trafficking.
As we’ve pointed out before: consumers can’t truly know exactly the source of what they’re consuming. The screen can mask performers’ ages, and make it seem like everything is consensual. We know this isn’t always the case: in one report, 49% of those who survived sexual exploitation said that they were forced into porn production while they were selling sex.
We know for sure then that porn is made of sex trafficking victims, and while that certainly doesn’t mean all porn is obtained through force, fraud, or coercion, it does mean you can’t be sure.
How porn is used to desensitize and groom victims
Beyond normalizing extreme or violent behaviors, porn can serve as a way to advertise for and groom victims of sex trafficking, desensitizing them to the realities of the violent sex they may experience, and also “training” them for future sex acts.
Journalist of the book Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It describes porn as the “dress rehearsal.” Many survivors of sex trafficking describe how they were exposed to pornography as a way to prime them, and it is considered a major risk factor that is understated. In fact, Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior Fellow for the Concerned Women for America, said in a statement regarding pornography that, “pimps and traffickers use pornography to initiate their…victims into their new life of sexual slavery” so that they “get hardened to accept the inevitable and learn what is expected of them.” Wow.
We can go on about the relationship between porn and sex trafficking because these industries go hand in hand and at times are found to be one and the same. When we see the number of cases relating to minors, we see just how twisted and intertwined with illegal actions the industry can get.
The bottom line? Porn is in no way isolated from the other areas of the sex industry, including sex trafficking. That’s why we want to make sure to have all the facts to make informed decisions, so you can consider before consuming.