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Why Do Some People Fight Against Sex Trafficking but Unconditionally Support Porn?

By July 29, 2019 No Comments

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 increases.

In an article, Dr. Gail Dines, President and CEO of anti-porn organization Culture Reframed, commented:

“We know that trafficking is increasing, which means demand is increasing. This means that men are increasingly willing to have sex with women who are being controlled and abused by pimps and traffickers. There are only two conclusions here: That men are naturally willing to do this to women, or that they are being socialized by the culture to lose all empathy for women. I refuse to accept that men are born rapists, porn users, or johns.”

We agree. To assume this exploitative behavior is human nature is an injustice to men. So how does a “john” or a sex buyer get to the point where he can justify buying a teenage girl whether he’s traveling to Thailand or 20 minutes from his house in the suburbs?

Related: By The Numbers: Is The Porn Industry Connected To Sex Trafficking?

There are many steps to developing this process of thinking, but an often forgotten missing link in is porn. The influence on our culture is strong, although often overlooked. Consider how young people are raised with their sex education from porn, and even as adults, their porn search terms influence ideas of sex, relationships, and objectification.

Of course, sex trafficking existed before internet porn—technically both pornographic depictions and sex trafficking go back to the beginnings of human civilization—but now is a unique point in time when there is more porn than ever, readily available for anyone.

Not every porn consumer buys sex from exploited individuals, and yet the connections between pornography and sex trafficking are undeniable and should not be underestimated.

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What is sex trafficking?

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. It 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 a girl or boy kidnapped in a foreign country, chained and forced into prostitution. Or boys and girls from a foreign country smuggled into the US and similarly abused.

These stories do exist. They are real, but they aren’t the only scenarios.

Related: Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein Accused Of Creating A Sex Trafficking Network Of Underage Girls

Sex trafficking isn’t just some foreign country’s problem. It is every country’s problem. For example, one very real and common way teenage girls in western countries are trafficked is through what is called the “boyfriend” method, in which the girl is groomed to believe she is in a loving and trusting relationship with a man who abuses her and sells her for sex.

In the US alone, 300,000 teens become victims every year. An estimated 15% of American men have bought trafficked persons for sex with reportedly two-thirds of those men knowing many people selling sex have been “coerced, tricked, or trafficked.” The point being, sex trafficking is truly a global problem, one we cannot afford to assume does not exist in our home cities.

The undeniable connection

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 sex trafficking of refugees whereas the child cybersex industry has grown in the Philippines.

Issues of poverty and power are commonly intertwined in sex trafficking, not to mention porn.

It is a controversial argument, we know, but we hope to change that as more research points to porn as a hugely fueling factor to this existing issue.

How porn affects the supply and demand for exploitation

Porn directly influences the supply and demand of sex trafficking. Studies have shown that exposure to porn can make a person less compassionate toward victims of sexual violence and exploitation. Then from there, consuming porn can increase a consumer’s desire to seek out and perform their fantasies. This is most clearly demonstrated in the “teen” porn genre, which has ranked within Pornhub’s top ten most searched for terms since 2009. A common storyline involves a teenage girl (or woman who appears younger) being taken advantage of by an older male. It glorifies and encourages a toxic fantasy.

Related: Report: The US Is One Of The Biggest Consumers Of Sexual Exploitation In The World

Building on the consumer’s desire to act out what they’ve seen is the “training manual” connection, in which sex buyers have their victim watch a video in preparation for a reenactment to fulfill porn-inspired fantasies. Ultimately a porn director’s fantasy becomes a trafficking victim’s reality.

Of course, not only does porn influence the demand and behavior of sex trafficking, the sad truth is that sometimes porn is a record that sex trafficking took place.

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Sometimes, they’re one in the same

The National Human Trafficking Hotline listed the top venues in 2018 where sex trafficking occurred. In order, they included: illicit massage/spa business, residence-based commercial sex, hotel/motel-based, pornography, and online ads.

Most of these locations aren’t a surprise, but pornography? Perhaps because of the prevalence of porn in our society, whether or not we want to acknowledge it, we are inclined to think what people watch is recorded sex acts between consenting adults. Sometimes that is the case, but often this isn’t the case, and it’s impossible if not difficult to tell the difference between the two.

According to anti-trafficking nonprofit, Rescue:Freedom, in 9 countries, 49% of sexually exploited women said that pornography was made of them while they were being sold for sex. One female survivor, whose captor slept on top of her at night to prevent her escape, watched her through a hole when she went to the bathroom, and listened to her phone calls with a gun pointed at her head, was forced to appear in a porn video. Later the film made the Sinclair Intimacy Institute’s list of “sex-positive productions,” but this woman knew the truth.

Related: Why Fighting Sex Trafficking Needs To Include Fighting Porn

“Every time someone watches that film,” she said, “They are watching me being raped.”

While many porn performers report having positive experiences on set, this isn’t a universal response. In Florida, two men were convicted of luring women over five years to audition for modeling jobs, drugging them, filming them being raped, and selling the footage as porn online. Even on professional porn sets, there are allegations of abuse and coercion—that key word in the TVPA’s definition of sex trafficking.

Consider that even performers’ expressed consent in post-shoot exit interviews is not always truthful because performers are massively pressured into not reporting abuse. We cannot emphasize this enough: even a mainstream, professional porn performer’s consent can be violated during a shoot, or coerced into doing sex acts they are not comfortable with, and the viewer would never realize they’re consuming images of exploitation.

We are not claiming that all porn is non-consensual, but rather, raising awareness that there is no way to tell if the porn a consumer views is completely consensual or produced without any coercion.

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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? 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 consume around the world every day.

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

Was that so-called “sex-positive” video completely consensual and exploitation-free? What do those 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? Hopefully, now you know the answer.

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