Portions of this post were originally posted on Time.com by the Associated Press. 4-minute read.
Authorities in Florida say they have arrested 85 people in a monthslong human trafficking sting, according to a report by the Associated Press.
“Operation Trade Secrets” began at the start of 2019, focusing on hotels, motels, spas, massage parlors, strip clubs, adult bookstores and other activities, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announced last week during a news conference. The sting targeted men trying to pay for sex with undercover deputies, but about half of the people arrested were women offering to commit prostitution.
“The only way to get proof of victims of human trafficking is to do an operation like this,” Chronister said. “You don’t know who’s there on their own free will and who’s being forced to have sex. It’s probably one of the biggest challenges of interviewing these individuals.”
One of the people arrested was a sex trafficker, Chronister said. Marcell Walsh, 40, was arrested in April and charged with human trafficking after a woman he was staying with at a Tampa hotel told detectives that Walsh was forcing her into prostitution.
Florida had the third-most calls last year to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Chronister said the efforts behind “Operation Trade Secrets” will continue.
Human trafficking is a particular concern for Tampa, which will host the Super Bowl in 2021. The FBI netted 169 arrests in a sex trafficking sting around Atlanta during this year’s NFL championship game.
Sex trafficking and porn
You might be asking, why is an anti-porn, pro-love organization talking about sex trafficking? We’re glad you asked.
In 2000, in response to reports of international human trafficking, one of the broadest U.S. bipartisan coalitions in history came together to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA.  The landmark legislation identified “severe forms” of human trafficking, imposed harsh criminal penalties for offenders, and provided support systems for the victims. 
Why was that such a big deal?
The TVPA defines sex trafficking as a situation in which “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such acts has not attained 18 years of age.”  It was designed in response to international sex trafficking like what we see in movies like “Taken,” but it had an interesting result: it ended up shining a light on every form of sex trafficking, especially in the United States—including when it happens in the porn industry.
But how can porn performers be sex trafficked? As survivors and data show, some people have been forced, tricked, or coerced into entering the industry in the first place, unable to leave once they’ve started. Not only that, but performers who are already in the industry can be forced, tricked, or coerced into performing sex acts they’re uncomfortable with, or performing with other performers on their “no” list. This is also considered a form of sex trafficking under the TVPA.
Consider this quote from one former performer:
“I tried backing out and wanted to go home, not do porn at all. I was threatened that if I did not do the scene I was going to get sued for lots of money.” –Former porn performer, Michelle Avanti
The worst part? Sex trafficking and other forms of exploitation blend right in with what’s mainstream, normalized, and celebrated in our sex-obsessed society—especially considering that violent porn is so popular.
How porn fuels the demand for exploitation
This means porn performers can be victims, and not necessarily realize what they just encountered. The best evidence of the trafficking and other abuses going on in the industry are from performers themselves. Their firsthand experiences speak louder than numbers (though we have those too).
Pornography fuels the global sex trade by driving demand into the mainstream of society. And since porn consumers do not and cannot distinguish between trafficked or exploited individuals and porn performers, they can often reinforce and drive the demand for exploitation through clicks and downloads without realizing it.
Or it can be a more direct reinforcement, like porn-obsessed consumers actually purchasing sex from trafficked individuals.
Consider how porn is the “tease” that leaves consumers longing for more. Catherine Mackinon, a professor at Harvard Law School, says that “consuming pornography is an experience of bought sex and thus it creates a hunger to continue to purchase and objectify, and act out what is seen.” 
Researchers of porn addicts have noted that an increasing tendency to act out sexually the behaviors consumed in the pornography includes frequenting massage parlors. In other words, the consumers looking at porn at home are often the same ones exploiting real people, ready with porn images in hand to show the person they’re exploiting what they want to do.
This is why we raise awareness on the connection between porn and sexual exploitation.