Cover image credit to Miami Dade Police Department, retrieved from Miami Herald. 5-minute read.
July is known for a lot of things—it marks the official first full month of summer fun for the Northern Hemisphere, complete with watermelon, fireworks (in some countries), and pool time.
Something less known about this month is that, because of the official World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on the 31st, it’s our #StopTheDemand awareness campaign.
Because of this, at Fight the New Drug, we’re focusing on this important issue and shedding a spotlight on different stories and aspects of trafficking, especially as it relates to pornography. Unfortunately, a lot of news about human sex trafficking is usually bleak.
This story from not long ago about a man arrested in south Florida is just one of too many examples of exploitation and trafficking in plain sight. We share this to humanize the issue of sex trafficking and give you an understanding of what it can look like.
What’s the story?
She reported that she, along with six other women, had been forced by Foster to sell sex in Detroit while Hurricane Dorian hit Florida, and were told to bring in $150,000 before returning back to Florida.
This phone call marked the unveiling of Foster’s 15-year sex trafficking ring, where he and two other women would intentionally target vulnerable girls and young women.
In fact, the call triggered an already ongoing investigation the FBI had on Foster, as over two years earlier, two other women known as Victims 1 and 2 in the federal complaint had come forward claiming Foster had recruited them as minors to work as exotic dancers and to sell sex.
What the investigators found
While Foster’s attorney upholds his client’s innocence, the FBI found boxes of condoms and exotic dance costumes while searching the Michigan hotel and his multiple Delray Beach homes.
The investigation has also yielded evidence, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Mackenzie Duane, that Foster would falsely offer help to women who had been victims of sex trafficking via a nonprofit called “Foster’s Care”, which dissolved in 2015. FBI later seized a website called FostersCareInc.com which listed Foster’s number, and that would offer victims, “medical treatment, mental and physical therapy, financial training, and relocation assistance,” under the false, “protection in partnership with police and FBI.”
Duane said that this hoax website, was in fact, “a clear effort by the defendant to recruit other victims.” This statement is supported by another victim’s assertion claiming that Foster had told her this:
“The best places to recruit minors and young women were from group homes, shelters and exotic dance venues, including low-end venues where the young women may have violent pimps.”
The victim who called the Trafficking Hotline, a recovering heroin addict, had in fact been recruited outside a nightclub.
Exploiting the vulnerable—a trait of traffickers
Foster is accused of having exploited his victims’ vulnerabilities; he would psychologically manipulate them, use drugs to build trust and dependency, and threaten with and occasionally use violence. He would bait them with promises of money and security, offering them to ride expensive cars like Ferraris and buying designer clothing.
However, like most traffickers, he didn’t come through on his promises. Instead, he would keep the money and force the girls to go on “lemon juice diets,” undergo cosmetic surgeries for breast and buttocks implants, rib removals, and liposuctions—what he called “investments.”
He was extremely suspicious, allegedly taking victims’ birth certificates and Social Security cards, and thoroughly monitored their emails, texts, social media accounts, and search histories. Mention of leaving would bring on anger, as one victim alleged that after attempting to leave after seven years of working for him, she was pushed onto a bed and punched in the head, avoiding further abuse only because another woman stopped him.
In Foster’s release hearing, someone spoke in his favor, claiming that Foster is a “nice guy, and girls like him.” He claims that one of the victims spoke out against Foster as a personal attack.
Foster has since been denied bail, and his court date was scheduled for December 9th to answer charges of, “sex trafficking of a minor by force or coercion, conspiracy to sex traffic a minor and transportation with the intent to engage in prostitution.”
Not an isolated case—by the numbers
This heartbreaking story of William Foster’s alleged explotiation is, unfortunately, not unique.
Estimates by the United Nations’ (UN) International Labour Organization (ILO) show that in 2016, there were almost five million victims of sex trafficking globally, one fifth of those involving children. Most victims, around 70%, are abused in Asia and Asia Pacific region.
While the numbers of specifically sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are unknown, an annual report by the State Department last year found that the U.S., which is estimated to have hundreds of thousands of trafficking victims, was in the top three for origin countries of all human trafficking victims, 40.3 million globally.
Consider that: over 40 million victims, yet, in 2018, there were only 230 human trafficking prosecutions initiated in the US—it goes without saying how dismal that number is in comparison to the crime itself.
What pornography has to do with trafficking
Sex trafficking is no joke, and it’s also not an easy problem to tackle. Many organizations are developing techniques and technology to both identify cases and help victims, and increasingly there are greater efforts placed on preventative measures.
As individuals, we can help too—it all starts by being informed. Did you know that pornography and sex trafficking are heavily interlinked? Allow us to briefly explain.
Traffickers often advertise their victims by taking explicit photos and videos of them and uploading them online—where these videos can sometimes end up on porn sites. This recently happened with an underage girls who was trafficked, and 58 videos of her being raped by sex buyers ended up on Pornhub. Or else porn producers will force, trick, or coerce unsuspecting people into shooting sex on camera—which is, by definition, sex trafficking—and these videos will end up online. Here’s a case where that recently happened to hundreds of women in San Diego.
Porn is also connected to trafficking in other ways. Would-be sex buyers will often consume pornography and feel inspired to try out degrading sex acts they likely wouldn’t try on their girlfriend, wife, or partner. Instead, they buy sex from someone—and often, though not always, that person has been forced, tricked, or coerced into selling sex.
Inspired by porn to purchase sex
This research study shows males who purchase sex from prostituted persons—again, who are often trafficked or exploited, though not always—are twice as likely to have consumed porn in the last year compared to the general population. It’s also not surprising that when these customers show up, many come ready with porn images in hand to show the women, men, boys or girls they’re exploiting what they want to do. (Consider how that study was published before the invent of the iPhone, so it’s much more likely that sex buyers are likely to have consumed porn recently before paying for sex, and much more likely to have porn in hand to show the sex seller.)
Here’s a quote from a sex buyer in another study that explored what drives men to purchase sex:
“The more I’ve watched pornography, the more specific my wants have become. Watching pornography has shaped my sexual desires. I watch pornography and I discover ‘hey, that really turns me on’ and I want to recreate what I’ve seen in porn.”
Interviewees in the study stated that consuming porn drove them to purchase sex.
These are just a couple different ways that porn is inextricably linked to sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation. These are why, as an anti-porn organization, we fight to raise awareness on the realities of the ties between sex trafficking and pornography.