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15 Basic Facts About Human Sex Trafficking

Did you know that if a porn performer is tricked, manipulated, or coerced during the production of porn, that is legally defined as sex trafficking?

The fact of the matter is that sex trafficking in porn is a much bigger issue than most people realize.

Pornography is the 3rd-most common form of sex trafficking, according to cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.Polaris. (2020). 2019 data report: The U.S. national human trafficking hotline. Retrieved from https://polarisproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Polaris-2019-US-National-Human-Trafficking-Hotline-Data-Report.pdfCOPY 

If a porn performer is tricked, manipulated, or coerced during the production of porn, that is legally defined as sex trafficking.Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106–386, Section 102(a), 114 Stat. 1464. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BILLS-106hr3244enr/pdf/BILLS-106hr3244enr.pdfCOPY 

Related: Traffickers Reportedly Try to Recruit OnlyFans Content Creators, Report Finds

So, is there a truly viable way for a consumer to guarantee that the porn they’re watching is consensual and abuse-free? How can a consumer verify consent in the production of porn? What happens when performers are coerced to lie about a sex act being consensual when it actually wasn’t?

Sex trafficking is, by nature, an underground issue, which means that accurate statistics are difficult to come by. If anything, the numbers reflecting sex trafficking’s pervasiveness are likely higher than reports indicate. But regardless of the exact numbers, it’s important to remember that one person trafficked is one too many.

Obviously, sex trafficking is not new, and it’s not the only form of trafficking. For the sake of the facts below, let’s focus on sex trafficking and its connection to porn based on existing research and accounts from survivors.

Fast Facts

Quick facts about sex trafficking

1. 59% of online victim recruitment in active sex trafficking cases occurred on Facebook.Feehs, K., & Wheeler, A. C. (2021). 2020 Federal Human Trafficking Report. Human Trafficking Institute. Retrieved from https://www.traffickinginstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/2020-Federal-Human-Trafficking-Report-Low-Res.pdfCOPY 

2. 65% of underage victims recruited online in 2020 active criminal sex trafficking cases were recruited through Facebook, while 14% were recruited through Instagram, and 8% were recruited through Snapchat.Feehs, K., & Wheeler, A. C. (2021). 2020 Federal Human Trafficking Report. Human Trafficking Institute. Retrieved from https://www.traffickinginstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/2020-Federal-Human-Trafficking-Report-Low-Res.pdfCOPY 

3. LGBTQ+ youth who are rejected because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are particularly vulnerable to potential psychological/emotional manipulation by traffickers or predators who may take advantage of them.Xian, K., Chock, S., & Dwiggins, D. (2017). LGBTQ youth and vulnerability to sex trafficking. In M. Chisolm-Straker, & H. Stoklosa (Eds.), Human trafficking is a public health issue: A paradigm expansion in the United States (pp. 141). Switzerland: Springer Nature. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-47824-1 Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2F978-3-319-47824-1.pdfCOPY 

Related: Does the Porn Industry Have Ethical Business Practices?

4. Reports show that those who sexually abuse children often show their victims porn to groom them or normalize sexual abuse.International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. (2017). Online grooming of children for sexual purposes: Model legislation & global review. ( No. 1). Retrieved from https://www.icmec.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Online-Grooming-of-Children_FINAL_9-18-17.pdfCOPY Lanning, K. V. (2010). Child molesters: A behavioral analysis for professionals investigating the sexual exploitation of children. (No. 5). National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Retrieved from https://www.missingkids.org/content/dam/missingkids/pdfs/publications/nc70.pdfCOPY 

5. According to a report of prosecuted sex trafficking cases in the U.S., the majority of coercive tactics used by traffickers (59%) were non-physical, compared to 41% of tactics involving physical coercion.Feehs, K., & Wheeler, A. C. (2021). 2020 federal human trafficking report. Human Trafficking Institute. Retrieved from https://www.traffickinginstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/2020-Federal-Human-Trafficking-Report-Low-Res.pdfCOPY 

6. Sex trafficking is a commercial sex act that is brought about by force, fraud, or coercion, or where someone under 18 is involved.Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106–386, Section 102(a), 114 Stat. 1464. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BILLS-106hr3244enr/pdf/BILLS-106hr3244enr.pdfCOPY 

7. Qualitative research with current and former porn performers suggests that sexual exploitation and trafficking are common experiences in the porn industry.Donevan, M. (2021). “In this industry, you’re no longer human”: An exploratory study of women’s experiences in pornography production in Sweden. Dignity: A Journal of Analysis of Exploitation and Violence. 6(3) doi:10.23860/dignity.2021.06.03.01COPY 

Get The Facts

8. While most porn consumers are generally unconcerned about the potential mistreatment of porn performers, about 70% of porn consumers who do learn about mistreatment in the porn industry take some form of action to combat it, including changing their porn habits.Tollini, C., & Diamond-Welch, B. (2021). American adult pornography consumers’ beliefs and behaviors related to pornography studios mistreating their performers. Sexuality & Culture, doi:10.1007/s12119-021-09872-3COPY 

9. In one survey of underage sex trafficking victims, 63% said they had been advertised or sold online.Bouché, V. (2015). A report on the use of technology to recruit, groom and sell domestic minor sex trafficking victims. Thorn. Retrieved from https://www.thorn.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Survivor_Survey_r5.pdfCOPY 

10. 83% of active 2020 sex trafficking cases involved online solicitation, which is overwhelmingly the most common tactic traffickers use to solicit sex buyers.Feehs, K., & Wheeler, A. C. (2021). 2020 Federal Human Trafficking Report. Human Trafficking Institute. Retrieved from https://www.traffickinginstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/2020-Federal-Human-Trafficking-Report-Low-Res.pdfCOPY 

11. According to a 2018 study of “child porn” victims, survivors reported that the images of their abuse caused different problems than the sexual abuse itself, including distress over being recognized from the images.Gewirtz-Meydan, A., Walsh, W., Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (2018). The complex experience of child pornography survivors. Child abuse & neglect, 80, 238–248. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.03.031COPY 

Related: Why LGBTQ+ Youth Disproportionately Experience Sexual Exploitation

12. Of the approximately 24.9 million trafficking victims globally, an estimated 4.8 million—about 19%—are trafficked for sex, and more than 1 in 5 sex trafficking victims—an estimated 21%—are children, according to the International Labour Office.International Labour Organization. (2017). Global estimates of modern slavery: Forced labour and forced marriage. Geneva: Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575479.pdfCOPY 

13. Of domestic minor trafficking victims who had been forced into porn production, the average age they began being filmed was 12.8 years old.Bouché, V. (2018). Survivor insights: The role of technology in domestic minor sex trafficking. Thorn. Retrieved from https://www.thorn.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Thorn_Survivor_Insights_090519.pdfCOPY 

14. According to a 2020 report, approximately 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys aged 13-17 report sharing their own nudes, despite the fact that those images are legally considered “child pornography.”Thorn. (2020). Thorn research: Understanding sexually explicit images, self-produced by children. Retrieved from https://www.thorn.org/blog/thorn-research-understanding-sexually-explicit-images-self-produced-by-children/COPY 

15. Reports show that those who sexually abuse children often show their victims porn to groom them or normalize sexual abuse.International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. (2017). Online grooming of children for sexual purposes: Model legislation & global review. ( No. 1). Retrieved from https://www.icmec.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Online-Grooming-of-Children_FINAL_9-18-17.pdfCOPY Lanning, K. V. (2010). Child molesters: A behavioral analysis for professionals investigating the sexual exploitation of children. (No. 5). National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Retrieved from https://www.missingkids.org/content/dam/missingkids/pdfs/publications/nc70.pdfCOPY 

Store - General

There’s no guarantee

By now you might be thinking, Wow, I had no idea sex trafficking was so linked with the porn industry. I guess I’ll just stay away from any porn that looks like someone might have been abused.

But again, there is actually no viable way to guarantee that any given pornographic content is consensually or ethically made.

As long as there’s a demand for porn—especially porn that is extreme, abusive, or degrading—the porn industry will continue to exploit vulnerable people to meet that demand.

A trafficking victim in a porn video is not likely going to turn to the camera and announce they are being trafficked. In fact, even if the victim does register their distress, it’s still virtually impossible to distinguish, because rape and abuse-themed porn are so mainstream,Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C., & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best-Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801210382866COPY  and producers can edit content any way they choose.

Related: 10 Ex-Porn Performers Reveal the Brutal Truth Behind Their Most Popular Scenes

When considering these issues, it’s also important to remember that most young people are exposed to porn before they have a healthy understanding of sex, let alone an understanding of how porn can fuel sex trafficking.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY  If you are struggling with a porn habit, please know that this does not make you a bad person. There are resources available to help you get to a healthier space.

You can hate something. You can be outraged by it. But if you continue to sustain and engage with an industry that helps give it life, what is your outrage worth? Make it count—be a voice against sexual exploitation and help stop the demand for sex trafficking by refusing to consume pornography.

Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.

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