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How Porn Performers Can be Sex Trafficked Without Realizing It

Sex trafficking, abuse, and other forms of exploitation blend in with what’s mainstream and normalized in our porn-obsessed society.

By October 5, 2021No Comments
TRIGGER WARNING
The following post contains descriptions of abusive situations.

 

Fight The New Drug produces a lot of articles educating about the behind-the-scenes of the pornography industry, oftentimes revealing the abuses that happen when the cameras are turned on, and off.

We back our claims with references to numerous studies, investigations, and personal accounts from survivors.

Yet, when we shed light on the abuses (link trigger warning) that go on within the industry, these are some of the most common objections in response from people who cannot believe that porn and exploitation are tied together:

So basically, this is what these comments are saying:

1) Porn performers enthusiastically agree to whatever they end up performing on camera, and even like it, regardless of if they’re trafficked or exploited.

2) They’re free to leave whenever, and only do whatever they’re comfortable with.

3) They get paid, so mistreatment is just part of their job, just like every other job has its downsides. They deserve it.

Here’s the catch—these comments are not only victim-blaming, they are not representative of reality. Let’s talk about it.

Related: “I Didn’t Know If They’d Kill Me”: What Happened When This Jane Doe Was Trafficked By GirlsDoPorn

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Abuse blends in with fantasy

The pornography industry, as we’ve shown time and time again, is built on a fallacy that perpetuates violenceDeKeseredy, W. S. (2015a). Critical criminological understandings of pornography and violence against women: New directions in research and theory. International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 4, 4-21.COPY  and stands as an accepted and promoted industry that gets away with abuse that is neither desired nor permissible in any other context. As Las Vegas Police Vice Lieutenant says, “there’s a lot of opportunities to blend in”“Tricked.” Netflix.COPY  when it comes to sex trafficking…and porn in “legal” areas.

“Blending in” is the biggest problem. Consider that nonconsensual, exploitative content is often displayed on the same page as consensual, “legal” content. It has become very easy for exploitation to thrive in plain sight, especially considering that abusive, violent porn is very common and in-demand.

That’s the issue with all three arguments above: sex trafficking and other forms of exploitation blend right in with what’s mainstream and normalized in our porn-obsessed society.

Consider the experience of Alia, who was a hugely popular porn performer in the mainstream industry. It wasn’t until years after she left the industry that she realized what she had experienced time and time again was trafficking.

Woah. Sex trafficking?

When people think about sex trafficking, they often have a very different idea than what usually happens.

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.Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) Of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106–386, Section 102(A), 114 Stat. 1464.COPY  The landmark legislation identified “severe forms” of human trafficking, imposed harsh criminal penalties for offenders, and provided support systems for the victims.Trafficking Victims Protection Act. (2009, November 29).COPY 

Related: Do Some Videos On Mainstream Porn Sites Actually Show Sex Trafficking?

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 act has not attained 18 years of age.”Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) Of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106–386, Section 102(A), 114 Stat. 1464.COPY  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.

This legal definition of sex trafficking means porn performers are often victims based on what they regularly encounter in the porn industry—force, fraud, and coercion. They can be victims of trafficking while also not necessarily realizing what they have endured. 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), because it reminds us that porn performers are people and they don’t deserve to be abused.

Porn may be a fantasy, but the harms it causes are real.

So, here are their stories, and each real experience breaks down three misconceptions many have about those in the porn industry.

Related: This Anonymous Performer’s Reddit Post About The Realities Of The Porn Industry Is Chilling

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Argument #1: “Porn performers agree to it, and even like it.”

Even if an abusive situation isn’t trafficking, by definition, it can still absolutely be exploitive. The following examples give us a look into the exploitive and abusive nature of the industry behind its glamorous facade, even apart from force, fraud, and coercion.

“Of course, different girls are gonna wanna say they’re empowered by their sex work, because what you can’t beat, you’re gonna join. You don’t want people to think you’re weak when you’re in porn; you wanna act like you love it and you love rough stuff, and you love being violated, and called degrading names. It’s all just a pack of lies.” –Shelley Lubben, former porn performer

“They believe that you love sex, that you love what you do.” -Former porn performer“Tricked.” Netflix.COPY 

Former porn performer and Fighter, Jessica, explains: “The only difference between rape and that moment was the money.”

“He was beating me, banging my head on his wooden floor to where my face and head was bleeding. He choked me to the point of passing out twice… It looks like the performers are having a blast…almost all go to their shoots high on something, whether it’s painkillers, weed, ecstasy, or cocaine.” –Jessie Rogers, former porn performer describing an off-set encounter with a male co-performer

“When you’re on a really strong painkiller, it’s a lot easier to take something like anal and smile and act like you’re having a good time.” –Alex Cruz (link trigger warning), former porn performer

“I was given Vicodin, Xanax, Norcos, Prozac, and Zoloft. The doctors knew I did porn but still gave me any prescription pills I wanted. All I had to do was tell them I needed them to get through hardcore scenes.” –Michelle Avanti, former porn performer

Related: Why Fighting Sex Trafficking Needs To Include Fighting Porn

Do these performers agree to be abused? Do reportedly over 75% have drivers to take them to sets because they are addicted to drugs or alcohol, where they might be, “fed Xanax,”“Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On.” Season 1, Episode 3. Netflix.COPY  or worse, because they “enjoy it”?

It’s worth noting that the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 added a new type of coercion that can be used in sex trafficking cases. Preying on a victim’s drug use or addiction (whether pre-existing or created by the trafficker), in and of itself, forms the basis for convicting traffickers under the TVPA.

Regardless of what they may think they are agreeing to when they’re signing up for porn—it doesn’t matter. Exploitation and abuse are often intertwined with pornography production, and every consumer has the right to know what they’re supporting with clicks, views, and downloads.

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Argument #2: “They’re free to leave whenever, and only do whatever they’re comfortable with.”

That smile on camera, the claims they only do what’s comfortable, can too often mask the abuse the increasingly violent industry demands and the pressure to keep up with what consumers want.

Performers are often young—barely over the age of 18—and have no idea what they’re getting into, and are coerced into doing scenes they didn’t outright consent to.  This is, by definition, trafficking. If they protest, they can be ignored, and the camera keeps rolling.

Porn performer Nikki Benz is one of the first decorated, mainstream performers to publicly come forward and call out this abuse, saying “she was…pressured into saying that [an abusive scene] was consensual in order to receive her paycheck.”

Related: Why Do Some People Fight Against Sex Trafficking But Unconditionally Support Porn?

Stories like Nikki’s are far too common. Threats of legal action or the next paycheck forces performers to go through with things they are not actually comfortable with, often times coerced to make snap decisions when they arrive on set (upon arriving to a different scene than promised); or, it’s a decision made for them in the midst of performing. This is textbook trafficking.

“A lot of people think that pornography fuels sex trafficking and it does. But it does that because [in some cases] it is sex trafficking….all of us have been coerced into doing a scene we didn’t wanna do.” –Shelley Lubben, former porn performer


James Deen held me down and f—ed me while I said no, stop, used my safeword…It took me months and months and months…to be able to call it what it was—which was rape.” –Stoya, current porn performer

“I agreed to do the scene thinking it was less beating, except the ‘punch’ in the head…Steve had worn his solid gold ring the entire time, and continued to punch me with it. I actually stopped the scene while it was being filmed because I was in too much pain.” –Alex Devine, former porn performer

“My agent didn’t let me know ahead of time… I did it and I was crying and they didn’t stop. It was really violent. He was hitting me. It hurt. It scared me more than anything. They wouldn’t stop. They just kept rolling.” –Sierra Sinn, former porn performer

How “free to leave” are these performers if, at times, they aren’t even aware that what is being done to them is criminal? If they think this kind of treatment is required to get paid? Someone in a situation where they feel like they don’t have the freedom to say “no”—or have their “no” be heard—isn’t exactly doing a job they initially they signed up for, are they?

The Human Trafficking Hotline clarifies what a trafficking situation can look like, and defines that, “for sex trafficking to occur, initial consent to a commercial sex act labor setting prior to acts of force, fraud, or coercion…is not relevant to the crime, nor is payment.”

Related: How Sex Trafficking And Exploitation Blend In With Today’s Mainstream Porn

Argument #3: They get paid, so mistreatment is just part of their job, just like every other job has its downsides.

Performing in porn is no “regular” job.

Think of it this way: no other job, career, or industry permits the abuses the porn industry does. Again, for some, it’s not even a choice they make completely freely. Some performers enter the industry out of financial desperation and coercive circumstances that force them to endure situations they naturally would never accept. And, sure, people pursue less-than-ideal jobs all of the time out of financial desperation, but do they also involve what the porn industry seems to require like being violently raped or sexually exploited to pay the rent?

“I saw an ad on Craigslist that said, ‘Makes 20,000 to 30,000 dollars a month modeling’…it looked appealing to me, to say the least.” –Jessie Rogers, former porn performer

“I had two or three jobs…I lived off of ramen and instant mashed potatoes. I never want to go back to that. It would’ve taken me until I was 46 to pay off my student loans…I make 8 times that now.” -Bailey, current porn performer and webcammer“Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On.” Season 1, Episode 3. Netflix.COPY 

Related: What This Anti-Trafficking Expert Says Is The Key To Ending Sex Trafficking

Become A Fighter

As the examples above illustrate, money is often the greatest motivator for why people enter the porn industry. Performers may face physical and verbal abuse, rape, and addiction in the industry but not speak out because they don’t want to lose the paycheck they desperately need.

Understanding that coercion occurs when someone or a situation forces a person to act in a way they may not choose to on their own is part of understanding how exploitation and human trafficking happen in the industry.

Porn performers can enter into trafficking situations in the industry because of coercive personal situations, while others can be trafficked into the industry by the force of other people. The saddest part? There’s no way for porn consumers to know if they’re supporting exploitation or not.

We are not claiming that all porn is nonconsensual, but rather, raising awareness that there is often no way to tell if the porn a consumer views is completely consensual or produced with coercion.

Related: 5 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Sex Trafficking In Your Daily Life

And if you’re still not convinced content on mainstream sites isn’t all consensual, read this Jezebel.com storythis story on Daily Beastthis story on Complex.comthis Rolling Stone storythis Daily Beast storythis Bustle.com storythis story on CNNthis NY Post storythis Gizmodo.com storythis BBC reportthis Florida Sun-Sentinel reportthis Daily Wire storythis Buzzfeed News profileand 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.

Is all hope lost?

Of course, there’s hope to confront exploitation where it thrives in the shadows of the industry. So what can we do?

Consider how even a single click continues to fuel abuse, some of it deemed “acceptable” and some not so much. A large collection of individuals who refuse to click porn, and drive down the demand porn solicits make a big difference. This movement that says “no” to contributing to an industry that promotes violence and degradation has already made a dent in the issue.

Related: California Man Reportedly Made $21 Million Operating Sex Trafficking Sites That Included Underage Victims

The biggest efforts we can do are to get educated on the realities of porn and its harms, and then educate others. Fight the New Drug’s mission is rooted in this principle that awareness drives action, and we believe we can change an industry if many of us truly know what’s really going on. We can inform you, so the misconceptions surrounding this industry aren’t the manipulative education we receive about sex, love, and relationships.

We can fight for real love by fighting against exploitation. Are you with us?

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