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By the Numbers: Is the Porn Industry Connected to Sex Trafficking?

We’re not claiming all porn is nonconsensual. Some is and some isn’t, and when you watch it there’s no way to know which is which.

Sex trafficking and porn—most people would think that these issues are completely separate, right? But they’d, unfortunately, be mistaken. Trafficking and porn are both booming businesses, so it’s not out of the question that people are taking advantage of vulnerable people for quick cash. The proof is in the stats and survivor stories. 7 minute read.

 

In our digital age, internet porn is more vast and varied than ever before. Since our organization’s start in 2009, it’s become clear that porn is becoming increasingly more accessible, affordable, available, and more anonymously consumed, year after year.

But it’s just recorded sex, right? What’s the big deal about all of this? Plenty, and we’ll tell you why.

What porn consumers don’t know

Research indicates that most young people are exposed to porn by age 13.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY  At that age, most young people have no idea what exactly goes into the production of a single pornographic image or video. They might not even think about how or why a performer got to be on camera, or the situation that led them to their involvement with porn. The unfortunate truth is that when it comes to porn, there’s virtually no way to guarantee that each performer is truly participating consensually.

In fact in some cases, porn is nothing more than sex trafficking on film.

RelatedHow To Identify (And Rescue) A Victim Of Sex Trafficking

That’s right. Porn and sex trafficking are inseparably linked, and much of society denies or is unaware of this fact.

For example, a common misconception held by too many porn viewers was tweeted at us after we posted facts about sex trafficking:

This is a comment we see on the regular about porn and sex trafficking. Many think the porn industry and sex trafficking industry are completely separate issues, one being a harmless pastime and the other being an illegal activity that only happens in faraway countries. Absolutely not so.

The truth is, porn, sexual exploitation, and sex trafficking are more closely linked than the average consumer may realize.

Wait, what? Actual sex trafficking?

First thing’s first: what is sex trafficking?

Sex trafficking is officially defined as a “modern-day form of slavery in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under the age of 18 years.”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 

That means any instance in which the individual on screen was forced, tricked, or pressured. That means trafficking in the porn industry is much more common than most people realize. Professional porn performers who are tricked, forced, or coerced into performing a sex act on their “no” list, or having sex with a performer on their “no” list are then—by legal definition—victims of sex trafficking. Here’s an article where we talk about how that happens regularly.

We’re not claiming that all porn is nonconsensual. We’re just pointing out that some of it is and some of it isn’t, and there’s virtually no way to guarantee which is which.

Related: How Porn Fuels Sex Trafficking

What’s the research?

Sex trafficking is, by nature, an underground issue, which means that accurate statistics can be difficult to come by. If anything, the numbers reflecting sex trafficking’s pervasiveness are likely higher than reports indicate. Regardless of the exact numbers, it’s important to remember that one person trafficked is one too many. Based on the research and reports available, here are a few important things to remember about sex trafficking and its connection to porn:

– By some estimates, 4.8 million people are trapped or forced into sexual exploitation globally.International Labour Office. (2017). Global estimates of modern slavery: Forced labour and forced marriage. Geneva: International Labour Organization. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575479.pdfCOPY 

– More than 1 in 5 victims of sex trafficking are children.International Labour Office. (2017). Global estimates of modern slavery: Forced labour and forced marriage. Geneva: International Labour Organization. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575479.pdfCOPY 

– Because any commercial sex act with a minor is legally defined as sex trafficking, the production and distribution of child sexual abuse material (also referred to as “child pornography”) often qualifies as a form of 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 

– 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 

– If someone is tricked, manipulated, or coerced into the production of porn, that legally qualifies as sex trafficking. For example, if a porn performer shows up on set to discover that the scene is much more aggressive or degrading than they’d been told, and their agent threatens to cancel their other bookings if the performer doesn’t go through with it, that legally qualifies 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 

– Reports indicate that sexual predators and traffickers often use pornography to groom victims, which can desensitize victims to sexual advances and normalize the sexual abuse they may experience.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 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 

– Sex trafficking is big business, generating an estimated $99 billion annually.International Labour Office. (2014). Profits and poverty: The economics of forced labour. Geneva: International Labour Organization. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_norm/---declaration/documents/publication/wcms_243391.pdfCOPY 

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

– According to one report on domestic minor sex trafficking, survivors indicate that they were sometimes “advertised” on porn sites. Thorn. (2015). A report on the use of technology to recruit, groom, and sell domesttic minor sex trafficking victims. Retrieved from https://www.thorn.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Survivor_Survey_r5.pdfCOPY 

– In order of likelihood, the most common pre-existing conditions that made underage sex trafficking victims vulnerable to trafficking, according to a report of prosecuted trafficking cases, are:

    1. Having run away from home (63%)
    2. Being in foster care (22%)
    3. Having substance dependency (18%)
    4. Experiencing homelessness (9%)
    5. Having been trafficked in the past (9%)Feehs, K., & Currier Wheeler, A. (2021). Human Trafficking Institute. Retrieved from https://www.traffickinginstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/2020-Federal-Human-Trafficking-Report-Low-Res.pdfCOPY 

– Of the more than 26,500 endangered runaways reported to NCMEC in 2020, one in six were likely victims of child sex trafficking.National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (2021). The issues: Child sex trafficking. Retrieved from https://www.missingkids.org/theissues/traffickingCOPY 

– Some evidence suggests that the desensitization toward sexual violence through the consumption of porn can then manifest in more willingness to buy sex, thereby increasing the demand for individuals being trafficked for sex.Gervais, S. J., & Eagan, S. (2017). Sexual objectification: The common thread connecting myriad forms of sexual violence against women. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 87(3), 226–232. https://doi.org/10.1037/ort0000257COPY Demand Abolition. (2018). Who buys sex? understanding and disrupting illicit market demand. Retrieved from https://www.demandabolition.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Demand-Buyer-Report-July-2019.pdfCOPY Herrington, R., & McEachern, P. (2018). “Breaking her spirit” through objectification, fragmentation, and consumption: A conceptual framework for understanding domestic sex trafficking. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 27, 1-14. doi:10.1080/10926771.2017.1420723COPY 

– Research indicates that most porn consumers are unconcerned about the potential mistreatment of porn performers. At the same time, however, about 70% of porn consumers who do learn about mistreatment in the porn industry take some form of action to combat it.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 

Store - Trafficking

Exploiting humans is big business

While only 19% of the global approximate 24.9 million trafficking victims are trafficked for sex, sexual exploitation earns 66% of the global profits from human trafficking. The average annual profit generated by each woman in forced sexual servitude ($100,000) is estimated to be six times more than the average profits generated by each trafficking victim worldwide ($21,800), according to the ILO. In fact, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), studies show that sexual exploitation can yield a return on investment ranging from 100% to 1,000%. That’s huge, and enticing to anyone looking to make bank.

RelatedBy The Numbers: Which Country Is Watching The Most Internet Porn?

Here’s a real-life example. In the Netherlands, investigators were able to calculate the profit generated by two sex traffickers from a number of victims. One trafficker earned $18,148 per month from four victims (for a total of $127,036) while the second trafficker earned $295,786 in the 14 months that three women were sexually exploited according to the OSCE.

What does any of this have to do with porn? It means that exploiting vulnerable people for profit in the sex industry is a sure way to make a lot of money. And seeing as the porn industry is worth an estimated $97 billion on its own, it’s clear why many traffickers choose to capitalize on the opportunity to sell explicit images and videos to unsuspecting consumers.

RelatedOne Simple Rule That Could Stop The Demand For Sexual Exploitation

Take it from an expert. Dr. Karen Countryman-Roswurm, Ph.D., LMSW, is the Founding Executive Director for the Wichita State University, Center for Combating Human Trafficking. Watch this trafficking survivor and leading anti-trafficking expert speak out on the clear connection between the porn industry and sex trafficking industry in this interview from Truth About Porn:

Porn fuels trafficking, and vice versa

Sometimes, pornographic images and videos are fringe “products” from victims being sold for sex. Sometimes, recruiters specifically use force, fraud, or coercion to ensnare vulnerable or unsuspecting people into performing sex acts on camera.

This is the reality of what the porn industry fuels: real people being sexually abused and exploited at the hands of family members, traffickers, and pimps. The collective billions of clicks to porn content directly fuels the demand for sex traffickers to make money by selling videos of their sex slaves to porn sites.  But what about major porn studios and porn sites—aren’t they completely separate from the sex trafficking issue?

Absolutely not.

Store - Trafficking

After all, when someone is sex trafficked, there are often videos or images taken of them, and these images and videos often end up on popular sites. The more the mainstream adult entertainment industry flourishes, the more difficult it becomes to distinguish images of trafficked or exploited individuals from consenting ones. And as the demand for violent and dehumanizing content grows, the more sex traffickers can profit from that lucrative porn demand, and the more they’ll exploit vulnerable people to get there.

After all, as we’ve seen from the numbers, it’s big business to do so.

Note that even porn that was produced in professional studios also abuse and exploit their performers.

If you’re not convinced content on mainstream sites isn’t all consensual, read this Jezebel.com story, this story on Daily Beast, this story on Complex.com, this Rolling Stone story, this Bustle.com story, this story on CNN, this NY Post story, this Gizmodo.com story, this BBC report, this Florida Sun-Sentinel report, this Daily Wire story, this Buzzfeed News profile, and this UK Independent story for further proof that the mainstream porn industry features nonconsensual videos and videos of trafficked individuals. And yes, this includes videos on Pornhub and other mainstream porn sites.

Watch: How Porn Fuels Sex Trafficking (VIDEO)

Not all porn, but there’s no way to know

Again, we are not saying all porn is nonconsensual. Some of it is and some of it isn’t, and when consumers watch it, there’s no way for them to definitively know which is which.

Related5 Simple Ways You Can Fight Sex Trafficking In Your Daily Life

So, would you buy from a company if you knew that some, but not all, of their products were made with child labor? Would you support a store that abused some, but not all, of their employees? How can it be okay to say that “porn is okay because participants give their consent,” when we know for a fact that some—probably much more than you think—do not?

As an anti-porn organization, this is exactly why we do what we do and why we’re fighting to stop the demand for sexual exploitation. By creating awareness, by educating others on why porn is tangibly harmful to our world, we are creating a movement of change around the world that surely puts a dent in the massive porn industry.

Knowledge is power, and being aware of the facts is an important step in decreasing the demand for porn and helping to eliminate sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.

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