Changing the Story Part 2: 4 Ways Our Culture Fuels Sex Trafficking

In a recent post, I made a bold claim: we cannot hope to fight sex trafficking unless we fight the underlying mindset that permits and advocates for pornography, stripping, and prostitution (see Changing the Story: Shine a Light on Slavery).

Today, I want to dive deeper and look at some concrete statistics, studies, and stories that show how this claim isn’t empty.  

You see, there are many distinct yet interrelated battlegrounds in the fight against sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. The first step is to identify the battlegrounds so we know which ones we fight every day. When we’ve done that, we begin to discover how we can specifically make a difference.

So let’s look at just four of them.

Battleground 1: Pop Culture

Now I know what you’re thinking. Pop culture? How can pop culture be a battleground in the fight against sex trafficking?

I’ll tell you how.

In 2008, a study of popular music revealed that 1 in 3 songs are about sexual intercourse and that two thirds contain lyrics about degrading sex and sexual acts (Degrading and Non-Degrading Sex in Popular Music: A Content Analysis).

Just consider that these are the songs that are fueling our mindsets and the mindsets of our youth about their sexuality. It’s the mindset that to be a man you have to be a sexual stud, and that to be a woman you have to sell your body. It reduces sex to a commodity and completely forgets the human beings involved in it.

But let’s dig a little deeper.

At the red carpet MTV Awards in 2003, Snoop Dog led two women around on leashes. Here is a celebrated artist who has been hailed America’s Most Loveable Pimp (America’s Most Loveable Pimp).

Do you see a problem with this? Our culture has sunk to the point where we celebrate the “Pimp Image.” We have songs like “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” We celebrate an image of men who are sexually entitled and wholeheartedly believe they have a right to do whatever they want with women’s bodies.

I’m going to be blunt for a moment. That song is one of the most twisted things I’ve heard. It celebrates, glamorizes, and normalizes a lifestyle of people who as a whole control, dominate, degrade, devalue, subjugate, and brutally abuse women physically and psychologically.  Pimps treat women as animals. Who else leads women around on leashes?

But you know what’s just as twisted? This song is a popular song among our youth and adults in pop culture.

I could go on and on about pop culture shows like Friends that celebrate, advocate, and make light of a “pornified” culture (Porn & Pop Culture: How Society Is Becoming More “Pornified”). I could go on and on about how about how popular movies like the “Fifty Shades” series literally depict sexual abuse and subjugation as romantic. Again, do you want to know the twisted thing? Thousands of people in our culture support it.

Battleground 2: Hookup Culture

There is much I could say on this topic, but for the sake of time, let me sum it up in the following words of a trafficking survivor:

Hookup culture may not seem connected to the trafficking experience, but I believe it is. It’s the foundation of the rape culture that raised me. It has all the meaningless repetition of sex, minus the money exchange. And the broken gender scripts, exposed here in hookup culture, are what wrote my exploitation story. These are the scripts in which men are written as sexual predators, women as sexual objects, and sex as meaningless. By age 11 I knew my purpose, as a girl, was to be sexually violated by men”  (Trafficking Survivor: I Was Changed Watching Liberated).

These words are not isolated to one experience. So many countless women feel the same way. If you want to dig deeper into how hookup culture correlates with sex trafficking, you can watch the documentary Liberated on Netflix. Viewer discretion is advised before watching.

Battleground 3: Porn Culture

Pornography is the major form of sex ed today for boys.  It’s going to have dire consequences for the boys, for the girls, and for the culture.’’   -Gail Dines

We discussed how pornography, sex trafficking, and sexual exploitation are interrelated in a previous post (An Inseparable Tie: Pornography and Sex Trafficking). Let me just add a few thoughts here:

- 46% of U.S. adults think “sexual acts that may be forced or painful” are not “wrong.” (Nearly Half Of Adults Think Violent Porn Is Acceptable, National Survey Finds).

- The average age of first exposure to pornography is 11-years of age (What’s the Average Age of Someone’s First Exposure To Porn?).

- In New Zealand and Australia, 90% boys and 60% girls have seen porn by age 16 (Activist Richie Hardcore Speaks Out On How He Fights Porn Culture In New Zealand and Australia).       

Pornography today is not your father’s Playboy. It’s hard-core, cruel, and brutal. So you’re bringing up a generation of boys who are more cruel, bored, and desensitized’’ (The Shaping of Things).

Battleground 4: Rape Culture

A few statistics:

- 1 in 5 women in Australia are victims of sexual violence (Facts and Figures).

- 1 in 3 women in New Zealand are victims of physical and sexual abuse from their partners  (Factsheet on Gender and Family Violence).

- Higher exposure to violent porn makes a person 6 times more likely to commit rape (There’s A Toxic Culture On College Campuses That’s Fueled By Porn).

- 1 in 5 women in the U.S. are sexually assaulted while enrolled in a four-year university (Exodus Cry).

So you take the boys that are raised in the above pop culture, hookup culture, and porn culture. After that, you add in an assortment of other factors such as the push-pull dynamic (to be discussed in a following post), poverty, homelessness, domestic abuse, etc. Based on all that, is it very surprising that it all creates a rape culture? You read it above: hookup culture is the foundation of rape culture. These four cultures are the cultures that are producing men who buy women’s and men’s bodies for sex.

What can you do?

Let me tell you about the strategy of abolition. It’s twofold: to change laws and to change mindsets. Many of us might not be able to change laws, but all of us can change mindsets.

First off, consider your own personal life. Are any personal decisions or personal mindsets of your own contributing to the above four cultures? If so, you can be a catalyst for change by beginning with changing your own mindsets and decisions. Once you’ve made that change, have the courage to lovingly and boldly challenge these mindsets in others in every day situations.

Second, you can become an advocate across social media by building awareness, liking, and sharing posts of Catalyst and other anti-trafficking organizations.

Want something very practical? Take the first step in becoming an abolitionist and LIKE and SHARE this post today.

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” –Albert Einstein

The change starts with you and me.