Cover photo by Skyler from Iowa. Instagram: @skylervillemel
Fighting against sex trafficking can seem like fighting against the tide. No matter how hard you try, there’s no stopping something so big and so powerful, and every time you feel like you’ve achieved a small victory, a problem pops up somewhere else. It’s the ultimate game of whack-a-mole, but the moles have been replaced by human lives, and the game is actually a global crisis.
Global sex trafficking is a huge problem, literally—it’s estimated that 4.5 million people around the world are coerced into the sex trafficking trade every year as part of a $32 billion industry, and the advent of digital marketplaces has made the identification of traffickers that much more difficult.
While there are plenty of awesome organizations around the world fighting sex trafficking, from governmental agencies to non-profits, it’s easy to wonder, “What can I do?”
We’re glad you asked.
It’s becoming more and more possible for regular people to play an active role in the fight against sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. New technological developments and classic on-the-ground action are both important, and we’ve put together a list of five ways that we can all be active participants in the global struggle to end sex trafficking.
1. Refuse to contribute to sexual exploitation with views or money
The porn industry is tied inescapably to sex trafficking. No, not every video and image on every porn site is trafficking-related, but exploitative images and videos are often indistinguishable from regularly consensual content.
Porn is a risk factor that has been connected to heavy involvement in sex trafficking, it normalizes the actions trafficking victims are forced into, it desensitizes victims of sex trafficking to those actions, and it’s used as “advertising” by both pimps and traffickers. Clicking, downloading, or consuming videos and images sends the message that we accept sexual entertainment at the cost of sexual exploitation, and earns advertising dollars that fund increased trafficking and exploitation.
But what about “mainstream” porn studios and porn sites—aren’t they completely separate from the sex trafficking issue? Great question, we’re glad you asked.
Here’s how it breaks down. The more the mainstream adult entertainment industry flourishes, the bigger the opposing globalized black market for porn will become, and the more difficult it will be for exploited porn performers to speak out and seek support within the industry. So the higher the demand for porn, even porn that was produced in professional studios (which, newsflash, also abuse their performers), the more sex traffickers will want to profit from that porn demand, and the more they’ll exploit vulnerable people to get there.
Not only that, but the bigger the porn industry, the more challenging it will be for performers to step out and speak out without backlash when they’ve been exploited and abused in the name of sexual entertainment. As of now, there is no formal system of support or reporting for those who have been forced, frauded, and coerced into shooting even one porn scene, and blacklisting outspoken performers is currently informal industry standard.
Not clicking isn’t always easy, since porn is everywhere and so many people struggle, but it’s an action that we can all take, and it’s an action that matters.
2. Take pictures of your hotel room
How does snapping a quick shot of your suite help? Well, a large amount of sex trafficking happens in hotel rooms—photos are often taken of trafficking victims in the rooms, and advertised online to potential buyers. These photos also capture wallpaper, carpet patterns, furniture, and other features that can help identify the room in which the picture was taken.
Connecting the photos to the exact locations was near-impossible, until a group of planners and programmers developed an app called TraffickCam. Upload a photo of your room to the TraffickCam database, and an algorithm can then match it with the decor found in photos taken by suspected traffickers. That makes it easier for law enforcement to identify the location where the trafficking was taken place and track down the perpetrators.
You can download TraffickCam for iOS and Android. Getting started takes seconds, and taking a few photos whenever you’re in a hotel can make a meaningful difference for law enforcement in the fight against trafficking.
3. Learn to recognize red flags
Sex trafficking isn’t always far away. It happens around the world, but that also means it can take place in our own cities, towns, and neighborhoods, so learning to spot the warning signs can help you identify victims and report them to law enforcement—just look at this story about a flight attendant helping a victim of trafficking, or an Uber driver who recognized the signs and reported trafficking to police. Because they listened to and observed what was going on around them, two lives were saved. How cool is that?
There are lots of red flags that can signal that a person is being trafficked. They can be fearful and anxious, unsure of where they are, seem to owe a large debt, show physical signs of abuse, and much more. Websites like the Polaris Project, Hope For Justice, Stop The Traffik, and the US Department of Health and Human Services all have extensive lists of red flags, and being familiar with them can help all of us identify and help trafficking victims even if we don’t anticipate encountering them.
4. Report trafficking-related activity
Read up on the facts of how to spot a trafficking victim or trafficker at the sites, linked above.
And if you think you’ve recognized a trafficker or a victim of trafficking, it’s important to notify the proper authorities as quickly as possible. You can call local law enforcement, or notify the National Human Trafficking Hotline 24 hours a day by calling 1-888-373-7888. The hotline has handled over 150,000 tips since 2007, and is the best way to activate a response that can rescue a victim or identify a trafficker.
5. Help educate others
Bringing others into the worldwide fight is an important part of fighting for the safety and security of victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. It can be as simple as a short conversation or the sharing of a website.
You can also print out these materials from the US Department of Health and Human Services, and share them with friends or family members to help them learn about the problem. The materials are available in multiple languages, and cover topics like sex trafficking, child exploitation, and social services.
Why this matters
The problem of sex trafficking will not go away on its own. This global issue will take a global community of Fighters to join together and fight against sexual exploitation by being part of the solution, not contributing to the demand.
It will take a global community that is willing to say “no” to consuming porn, and say “yes” to reporting any trafficking-related activity. And it won’t always be easy to fight, but it will always be worth it. Are you with us?