An Inseparable Tie: Pornography and Sex Trafficking

*Trigger warning: some may find some of the material presented below to be graphic and/or disturbing*

 Time to read: 4 min

Time to read: 4 min

His addiction to pornography wasn’t enough to satisfy him. He had to take it to the next level where physical, real women were involved outside of a screen.
(When Porn Wasn’t Enough For My Partner, He Turned To Prostitutes)

Pornography and sex trafficking are inseparably linked. Many people will be greatly offended at that statement. The argument often goes, “Of course sex trafficking is wrong, but there’s nothing wrong with pornography. After all, it’s consensual. Mind your own business. Porn doesn’t hurt anyone.”

Admittedly, some pornography may be consensual. But studies, testimonials, and news reports are beginning to pull back the dark curtain of the porn industry. What’s behind the curtain breaks my heart.


THE NUMBERS:
- Globally, 4.5 million people are forced into sexual exploitation
(International Labor Organization)

- 63% of underage sex trafficking victims are advertised or sold online
(Thorn)

– And 70% of underage trafficking victims say that pornography was made of them while enslaved.
(Thorn)

Seventy percent. Seventy percent. Suddenly, the argument that all pornography is consensual begins not to hold up so well. But there’s much more.

Sex trafficking is officially defined as a “modern-day form of slavery in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under the age of 18 years” (The Definition of Sex Trafficking).

Do you see what this means? Every time in pornography when a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, that is sex trafficking. That is modern-day slavery.

We don’t have precise statistics on the amount of pornography that is non-consensual. But that’s the point: there is no way to know which of it is and which of it isn’t. If 70% of underage trafficking victims say pornography was made of them, and 63% of underage sex trafficking victims are advertised or sold online, and 4.5 million people are forced into sexual exploitation, how many people who watch porn are unknowingly the buyers of victims of sex trafficking? How many people in the U.S. alone are fueling sex trafficking?

NORMALIZING THE VIOLENCE:
Now, some opponents may raise another objection, “How do we know this type of thing happens on the more popular sites?”

Well, in 2016 alone, 91,980,225,000 porn videos were viewed on one the world’s largest free porn sites, Pornhub. That number is almost staggering. 91 billion. Put another way, that's "729 people a second, or 64 million a day" watching porn (How Many People Are Watching Porn Right Now?). And that's one year of one free porn site literally among thousands.

If that number isn’t staggering enough, many of the billions of videos viewed were categories of porn that included extreme, brutal sexual violence. The most popular search on the entire website was incest-themed porn. As saddening as that is, that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's much more that we don't feel comfortable sharing here, but suffice it to say that Dr. Norman Doidge — author of the neuroscience book The Brain That Changes Itself – states that hardcore porn “is increasingly dominated by the sadomasochistic themes . . . all involving scripts fusing sex with hatred and humiliation.”

Here’s the truth: porn does not condemn violence, it normalizes it; porn does not condemn illegal, harmful activity, it normalizes it; porn does not condemn the degradation of women, it normalizes it. And our American society is saturated in it.

Pornography promotes women as sexual objects. Research even shows that softcore porn is linked to greater acceptance of rape culture. Furthermore, "consumers of violent and nonviolent porn are more likely to use verbal coercion, drugs, and alcohol to coerce individuals into sex. [7] And multiple studies have found that exposure to both violent and nonviolent porn increases aggressive behavior, including both having violent fantasies and actually committing violent assaults" (How Consuming Porn Can Lead to Violence).

Beyond the fact that 70% of underage trafficked victims are forced into pornography, pornography normalizes and encourages the demand for brutal, sexual violence. Put another way, pornography fuels prostitution, and the demand behind porn and prostitution fuels the sex trade.  

What is so saddening is that this focus on violence is intentional.

“I’d like to show what I believe the men want to see: violence against women.  I firmly believe that we serve a purpose by showing that.”
--Porn Producer Bill Marigold, quoted in Robert J. Stoller and I. S. Levine, Coming Attractions: The Making of an X-Rated Video (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993) p. 22


THEIR STORIES:  
If you don’t believe me, believe the stories of women who have experienced pornography first hand.

Linda Boreman’s career in the porn industry began in 1972 due to the coercion of her husband. Linda later became an advocate for the anti-porn movement. In the following quote, she shares her first experience with a pornographic shoot:

“My initiation…was a gang rape by five men… It was the turning point in my life. He threatened to shoot me with the pistol if I didn’t go through with it. I had never experienced anal sex before and it ripped me apart. They treated me like an inflatable plastic doll, picking me up and moving me here and there. They spread my legs this way and that, shoving their things at me and into me, they were playing musical chairs with parts of my body. I have never been so frightened and disgraced and humiliated in my life. I felt like garbage. I engaged in sex acts for pornography against my will to avoid being killed. The lives of my family were threatened.”

This is beyond heartbreaking. There are no words for it. Linda Boreman’s story is just one of the countless many stories of how pornography dominates, humiliates, and sexually uses women. I don’t have time to go into it, but there are so many other stories of women so similar to hers that it’s scary (5 Real Stories Of Porn Performers Who Were Trafficked Into The Industry). One begins to question not how much pornography is non-consensual, but really, how much even is?
 
WHAT YOU CAN DO
I’ve always known pornography and sex trafficking were connected, but I never realized until recently how connected they are. More and more, I'm realizing that we cannot hope to win the fight  against sex trafficking unless we also engage in the fight against pornography. 

We cannot allow the connection to go unvoiced. Catalyst believes that each one of us can be a catalyst for change. If each one of us won’t take it upon ourselves to raise awareness, who will? Please SHARE this post and begin to have conversations on how porn normalizes sexual violence and fuels sex trafficking. If we are going to stop the tide of normalization, it starts with you and me.

--Aaron