Where there is a global problem, there needs to be a global solution.
Community-wide action is vital in responding to the worldwide challenge of human trafficking. Trafficking is less visible than many other global issues, yet it impacts everyone.
Just ask Danelle McCusker Rees, Human Resources President for UPS’s domestic operations. Her statement on the action UPS has taken to combat sex trafficking over the last couple of years shows how some issues go beyond employees. “It’s truly about our community,” she said.
And when an issue is about a community, it’s going to take the entire community to tackle it.
UPS makes a dent in the fight against sex trafficking
At the end of January 2020, UPS announced that it would begin training its delivery drivers to detect signs of sex trafficking.
This policy extends to both neighborhood and freight drivers and has reached a total of more than 130,000 drivers and supervisors nationwide. Cool, right?
This started back in 2016, when UPS teamed up with Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), an organization that assists law enforcement by training transportation professionals to recognize and report signs of sex trafficking.
To date, TAT has trained almost half a million professionals, and UPS is just one company that is benefitting from the training programs available.
And seeing as the existing issues of human trafficking haven’t gone away, this training couldn’t have come at a better time.
How can drivers be part of the change?
These efforts show how community-wide action really can have an impact. It has transformed a transportation company’s daily business into a targeted tool for change.
According to anti-human trafficking organization Polaris, truck and rest stops, and highway motels can often be hubs for human trafficking; for traffickers, they mean convenient access to many transient buyers, and, as they are typically in secluded locations, imply little risk in losing track of their victims. Trucking companies and drivers are on the “frontlines of this global epidemic,” according to American Trucker, and can do a lot to help if they are trained.
The training drivers like those from UPS receive help them detect red flags when identifying victims of this $150 billion business. Markings like tattoos (which can indicate trafficker branding), or hints of abuse or drug addiction can be signs of human trafficking. Trained drivers know to take notes on specifics: vehicle color, time, exact location—and notify the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Over the last decade, almost 2,000 calls to the Hotline have been from callers specifically identifying as drivers. However, that’s only about 1% of calls the Hotline has received in a similar time period, which means there’s a lot of work yet to be done.
Implementation across borders and industries
Legislators are working to have programs like those TAT offers be required as part of all entry-level or commercial driving certifications. TAT programs are currently implemented in twelve states’ certification processes, and being considered in others’, as the value of the trucking industry in combating human trafficking is increasingly recognized.
But thankfully, the trucking industry isn’t the only one making changes in a community effort.
Hotel and motel chains, also hubs for human trafficking crimes, are making changes to make their contribution. Last year, Marriott International hit a milestone: it successfully trained 500,000 hotel workers across almost 7,000 hotels to recognize the signs of sex trafficking in just two years. They have been taught to detect warning signs of trafficking which can look different from what appears in the trucking industry—guests with, “minimal luggage…that seem disoriented…and guests who insist on little or no housekeeping.”
Polaris states that it is a, “popular misconception,” to believe trafficking can only occur in sketchy motels. It’s as likely to occur in mainstream hotel chains. Other hotels like Wyndham group and Hilton have also made efforts to combat human trafficking,
What’s all this got to do with porn?
The challenge to fight against trafficking is daily. It’s great large companies like UPS are making key efforts, but what can we as individuals do? After all, these large-scale problems require the help of everyone.
The first step is awareness. It’s challenging to defeat an enemy you don’t know. And one of the less commonly known aspects of the human trafficking problem is its relationship to porn.
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.
People tend to picture these industries as separate spheres, when in fact the reality looks more like a Venn Diagram. There’s more overlap than is commonly known, and some of the most basic ways porn and trafficking are connected are these: sometimes, the existence of a porn video is recorded evidence that sex trafficking took place.
For example, traffickers and abusers often use pornography to groom victims and “train” them on what is expected of them. 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.
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.”
But of all the ways pornography and sex trafficking overlap, one of the most surprising elements of all might be this: even in the production of mainstream porn with popular performers, sex trafficking can still occur—and it happens more regularly than you might think.
For example, one common way trafficking occurs in the porn industry is through the coercion used by agents and producers, and even directors on set. Many performers enter the porn industry out of financial desperation, some deal with substance addictions, and others already in the industry stay out of fear that their history in porn will make it impossible to find another job.
While these scenarios are not necessarily the case with all performers, it’s important to recognize that agents and producers often exploit these vulnerabilities in order to coerce performers into producing more—and more hardcore—content. Producers may lie or withhold information about what is expected of the performer. Agents may threaten to blacklist the performer if they don’t go through with what they’re pressuring them to do.
Regardless, this type of coercion is commonplace in the porn industry, and legally speaking, it’s trafficking.
This brings us to the next way porn fuels trafficking: porn can fuel the demand for sex trafficking. Often, those seeking sex want to act out what they’ve seen on screen. Even consumers who don’t seek out sex drive the demand in real life of what’s on screen.
Many pro-porn advocates who recognize the harms and damages of the mainstream porn industry and mainstream sites now advocate for porn consumers to get their content from alternative sites that put more control in content creators’ hands. Yet while sites like OnlyFans may take more precautions than more mainstream sites, they are still not exempt from these issues.
Despite being advertised as an ethical alternative to porn tube sites, OnlyFans has also been found to host child sexual abuse material and nonconsensual content. OnlyFans claims to have a robust system for preventing sex trafficking and abusive content, including systems to verify content creators’ ages, yet an investigation by the BBC reveals that OnlyFans’ age verification process has not been able to efficiently prevent child pornography from being uploaded to the site. Many underage creators have been found to use fake identification to create an account on OnlyFans, with one 14-year-old even using her grandmother’s passport.
And regardless, OnlyFans does not require uploaders to verify the age or consent of all participants—only the account owner—which means that nonconsensual content can be easily uploaded to the platform.
If you’re not convinced content on mainstream sites isn’t all consensual, read this viral New York Times story, this BBC report, this Jezebel.com story, another story from the New York Times, this story on Daily Beast, this story on Complex.com, this Rolling Stone story, this Bustle.com story, this story on CNN, this News.com.au story, this Buzzfeed News profile, or this UK Independent story for further evidence that the mainstream porn industry features nonconsensual content and videos of trafficked individuals. Unfortunately, there are many, many more stories like these. And again, this is happening on virtually every mainstream porn site.
Of course, we are not claiming that all porn is nonconsensual, rather, we’re raising awareness on the unfortunate reality of the porn industry—that there is often no way to tell whether the porn a consumer views is completely consensual or if it was produced with coercion.
When it comes to issues like sex trafficking, the challenge is often more complex than meets the eye. Unexpected industries, like porn, can actually factor in as an important player. Likewise, when it comes to the solution, we have to consider all the actors involved. Companies that are seemingly completely unrelated to the problem now become part of the solution.
As individuals, we can do the same. Let’s be part of the solution, and refuse to click.