This post was originally shared in August 2019. 5-minute read.
Between June 23 and July 28, the “National Johns Suppression Initiative” led to 503 arrests, including eight who were charged with soliciting a minor and 18 who were charged with trafficking.
The initiative, conducted in 11 states by 26 law enforcement agencies, was started in 2011 by Sheriff Thomas Dart of Illinois in order to draw attention to the role sex buyers play in fueling sex trafficking.
How the national operation works
The initiative uses fake internet ads that link to artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots who interact with thousands of “johns,” another term for sex buyer.
“Riley” (not his real name), an employee of an Oregon-based not-for-profit operation that also sends out fake ads and interacts with sex buyers on a frequent basis says that the “use of the AI chatbots is the real key.”
That’s because he says the process of getting from a sex buyer initially reaching out to eventually having enough evidence to arrest and convict them of their crime can “take a very, very long time.” In some cases, Riley says that it can take “a whole day” for someone to simply respond to your initial response to their inquiry about purchasing sex.
“Then, in order for law enforcement to have enough evidence, the sex buyer has to say enough to show clear intent to purchase sex,” Riley explains. “But they’re smarter than we might think. They use lingo and emojis that don’t explicitly reveal this intent. If you tell them too early that what they’re doing is wrong, they’ll just tell you they must have used the wrong number to reach out to a coworker and ‘poof,’ you never hear a word from them again.”
The chatbots allow law enforcement officers to not waste precious time and energy reeling in a potential sex buyer over the internet. Instead, they are able to simply hone in on who needs arresting.
While the “National John” initiative has done incredible work since its inception, involving more than 140 agencies and arresting over 9,500 sex buyers, it is still only a reactive response to the demand for sex. It doesn’t get at the root of the issue, which is preventing demand altogether.
And, while not the sole reason the demand for commercial sex exists, porn has played an enormous role in destroying our culture’s conception of healthy sex by desensitizing consumers in such a way that makes the abnormal normal and the unsexy sexy.
Let’s take a look at how.
How porn desensitizes trafficking and abuse victims
Think about this: what people consume impacts them greatly. Food is an obvious example, but this concept also holds true with media consumption. And, while media isn’t inherently “bad” or unhealthy, its outputs, and the mental stimulation you receive from those outputs, can be.
Porn is one of media’s most prominent outputs, and it definitely reaches and impacts many, and not for the better. The sad fact is that porn is really toxic for those who consume it.
One of porn’s many proven harms is that it desensitizes the porn consumer’s brain. To put it another way, the consumer begins to build up a tolerance to the extreme or shocking images they see, which leads them to require greater amounts and more extreme porn in order to experience the same “high” as before.
This tolerance may “just” lead some to escalate the porn genres they watch. However, in other cases, research shows that tolerance can lead porn consumers to be more likely to support violence against women, to be more sexually aggressive in real life, and to believe that women secretly enjoy being raped. Moreover, the desensitization process has been shown to rewire porn consumers’ brains in a way that leads them to tolerate something as damaging and serious as sexual assault.
But that’s not always where it ends.
In some instances, porn is used as a tool to groom children. In other words, porn’s desensitizing capability is so strong that predators will use the material on potential child abuse victims to inhibit them from understanding that they are being abused and exploited.
Does that sound like harmless sexual entertainment to you?
But porn doesn’t only hurt the consumer—it hurts the producer, too.
Porn and sex trafficking are inextricably linked
Take it from “Annie,” the head of an Illinois-based anti-sex trafficking not-for-profit who explained with frustration during an exclusive interview that a number of the girls she works with, who were once called by sex buyers on a daily basis and who once worked in the porn industry, are actually being trafficked.
“It’s quite surprising to a lot of people. Both scenarios are meant to look completely harmless. The john wants sex, so he calls a girl from an ad he finds online. He sets up a time, meets up with her, pays her, and gets sex. It’s as simple as driving to the grocery store after work and buying an apple,” Annie explains. “Or maybe you’re home alone and you’re feeling turned on, so you open up a porn site on your phone. Once again, very simple. Nobody has to feel bad because everyone gets what they want. In fact, many women even make it seem like they’re enjoying themselves because that’s what they’re taught to do.”
But the images presented by those selling sex online and of the porn industry are anything but real.
Why this matters
Emily was made to do what she was doing and she didn’t enjoy it.
When she was being bought by sex buyers, she worried for her life on a nightly basis. And when she worked in the porn industry, performing in hardcore videos, she saw that things weren’t any different. There, she was forced to do violent choking scenes because they were supposedly “hotter.”
Emily eventually escaped the porn industry and has never looked back.
The reason why? Because of this: porn is inherently exploitative and violent, and watching isn’t worth it. For those who are trafficked and their images taken and uploaded to easily accessible porn sites, and for those who sit on the other side of the screen, unknowing that they’re supplying the demand for sexual exploitation.
So, stand with us and refuse to click. We’re here to stop the demand for sexual exploitation, and we hope you’ll join us.