When discussing sex trafficking, there are three things that are not up for debate: Sex trafficking is a dehumanizing crime, it needs to end, and to make it stop permanently, we need to fight the demand.
Easier said than done, right?
Human trafficking, child exploitation, and women’s organizations regularly campaign to stop the demand with perhaps the most famous slogan being “#RealMenDontBuyGirls” (an unintentionally shaming phrase, we might add). Awareness is raised, minds are changed—but trafficking still increases.
We live in a world that needs to see concrete numbers to legitimize an issue. Unfortunately, since sex trafficking and sexual exploitation are underground businesses, those numbers are difficult to come by.
But a lot of what we do know about the current state of the industry comes from survivors, and they have a lot to say about how porn was largely connected to or included in their trafficking or exploitation.
9 quick stats about sex trafficking today
Here are just a few broad stats about sex trafficking in the U.S.:
1. Human trafficking wasn’t a federal crime in the US until 2000 when the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed.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 The United States Department of Justice. (2020). Human trafficking prosecution unit (HTPU). Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/crt/human-trafficking-prosecution-unit-htpuCopy
2. Child sex trafficking has been reported in all 50 states in the U.S.National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (2021). The issues: Child sex trafficking. Retrieved from https://www.missingkids.org/theissues/trafficking#bythenumbersCopy
3. In 2019 alone, human trafficking situations reported to the National Human Trafficking hotline involved 22,326 identified survivors, 4,384 traffickers, and 1,912 suspicious businesses.Polaris. (2020). 2019 data report: The U.S. national human trafficking hotline. Retrieved from https://polarisproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Polaris-2019-US-National-Human-Trafficking-Hotline-Data-Report.pdfCopy
4. Nearly half (44.6%) of underage sex trafficking victims experienced childhood sexual abuse before entry into the commercial sex industry. Other risk factors included childhood emotional abuse (40.9%), childhood physical abuse (32.5%), having been raped (50%), and having ever run away from home (62.6%).Fedina, L., Williamson, C., & Perdue, T. (2019). Risk Factors for Domestic Child Sex Trafficking in the United States. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 34(13), 2653–2673. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260516662306Copy
5. According to cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, pornography was the 3rd-most common form of sex trafficking, after escort services and elicit massage businesses.Polaris. (2020). 2019 data report: The U.S. national human trafficking hotline. Retrieved from https://polarisproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Polaris-2019-US-National-Human-Trafficking-Hotline-Data-Report.pdfCopy
6. The most common pre-existing conditions that made child victims vulnerable to trafficking include (in order of likelihood) having run away from home (63%), being in foster care (22%), having substance dependency (18%), experiencing homelessness (9%), and having been trafficked in the past (9%).Feehs, K., & Wheeler, A. C. (2021). 2020 federal human trafficking report. Human Trafficking Institute. Retrieved from https://www.traffickinginstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/2020-Federal-Human-Trafficking-Report-Low-Res.pdfCopy
7. According to a report of prosecuted sex trafficking cases in the U.S., the majority of coercive tactics used by traffickers were non-physical (59%).Feehs, K., & Wheeler, A. C. (2021). 2020 federal human trafficking report. Human Trafficking Institute. Retrieved from https://www.traffickinginstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/2020-Federal-Human-Trafficking-Report-Low-Res.pdfCopy
8. While sex trafficking can happen to anyone from any background, LGBTQ+ youth tend to be particularly vulnerable to trafficking as they tend to face more discrimination and marginalization.Xian, K., Chock, S., & Dwiggins, D. (2017). LGBTQ youth and vulnerability to sex trafficking. In M. Chisolm-Straker, & H. Stoklosa (Eds.), Human trafficking is a public health issue: A paradigm expansion in the united states (pp. 141-152). Cham: Springer International Publishing. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-47824-1_9 Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-47824-1_9Copy
9. 1 in 6 runaway minors reported missing to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children are likely victims of sex trafficking.National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (2021). The issues: Child sex trafficking. Retrieved from https://www.missingkids.org/theissues/trafficking#bythenumbersCopy
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
Porn is part of trafficking, too
As you can see from above, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was a major move in US legislation that identified different forms of human trafficking, set harsh criminal penalties for offenders, and provided support for victims.
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.”
This definition allows for many different sex trafficking scenarios that may not get as much news coverage to be prosecuted. Those unfamiliar with this issue, may imagine the Hollywood situations, such as kids getting kidnapped in a foreign country, and then being chained up and forced into selling sex.
These stories do exist. They are real, but they aren’t the only scenarios.
Because of the variety of circumstances in which sex trafficking occurs, there are many contributing causes subject to differences in cultures, economies, political influences, and legislation to name a few. For example, Europe has seen a rise in the sex trafficking of refugees whereas the child sex slavery industry has grown in the Philippines.
Issues of poverty and power are commonly intertwined in sex trafficking—not to mention porn.
Many porn consumers don’t know that more and more research points to porn as a fueling factor to the existing issue of human trafficking.
How porn affects the supply and demand for exploitation
There are all kinds of connections between pornography, sexual exploitation, and sex trafficking. Often, they’re one and the same. But pornography and sex trafficking are connected in more ways than just one.
For example, traffickers and abusers often use pornography to groom victims and “train” them on what is expected of them.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
Reports show that many sexual predators show their victims pornography during the grooming process in order to lower their victims’ inhibitions, desensitize them to sexual advances, and normalize the sexual abuse they will 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
Because pornography can so effectively normalize sexual violence, it can then set the stage for victims’ abuse, especially when consumers’ viewing habits and fantasies involve violence or other fetishes.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
Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her home at age 14, was regularly shown pornography by her captor before he would rape her. She explains, “He’d look at me and he’d be like, ‘Now we’re gonna do this…’ The things that these women were being photographed doing were things that I was being forced to do, and it was almost like they were setting the bar, setting the standard of what my captor was going to force me to do next… It almost felt like this pornography was my sentencing.”Brain, Heart, World: Episode 3, The World. Fight the New Drug, 2018. https://brainheartworld.org/Copy
In fact, many survivors who have been sold for sex report being shown pornography by their traffickers or buyers to illustrate what is expected of them. As one survivor named Lexie who was sex trafficked as a child explained, “Right before any time a customer was brought into the room, I would be shown pornography. And being that young, I think it translated for me as an overall thing, as a woman—this is what men expect from you, and this is what people want from you.”Fight the New Drug (2020). Lexie’s Story: “The First Time I Was Sold for Sex, I Was 11”. YouTube, YouTube, 29 April 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zy2kR1zFwjQ.Copy
Of course, not only does porn influence the demand and behavior of sex trafficking and the purchase of commercial sex, the sad truth is that sometimes porn is a record that sex trafficking took place.
Click here to read more about how some mainstream porn is the recorded evidence of sex trafficking.
Consider all the facts before consuming
There is no easy call to action to end sex trafficking. Tackling this industry would need the full help of governments all over the world to enforce laws and protect the vulnerable, just to get started.
How do you kill an industry? Well, if no one wants to buy a product, then it doesn’t sell. Stopping the demand for sex trafficking starts with each one of us. If you hate the idea of sex trafficking, if it is shocking and horrible to you, then consider what millions of people visually consume around the world every day.
What do violent images of sex suggest or normalize, including in the trafficking world? Do those videos encourage objectification and sexualization of teen girls and minor exploitation?
And ultimately, does porn drive the demand for sex trafficking in direct and indirect ways? Hopefully, now you know the answer.
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