Porn and Punishment: The Link Between Porn and Sex Trafficking

Pornhub, one of the world’s largest pornography sites, received an average of 92 million visits per day, according to their annual Year in Review. This number is roughly equivalent to the populations of Canada, Poland, and Australia combined. If statistics like this no longer stagger us, it’s because the campaign to normalize porn culture has been a sweeping success. Even before 2003, when the musical Avenue Q first declared to a theater full of laughter and cheers that “the internet is for porn.”

An advertisement for PaintBottle.com, described as “a porn site for the 21st century,” declares, “Everyone you know watches porn…because we’re beings, not robots. It’s human nature”. The message—which reads like something you might hear shouted across a schoolyard—is clear: “Everyone is doing it, so it must be okay.”

Although research continues to uncover the ways that porn can negatively alter our brains, warnings about personal health—especially in America—are not often effective catalysts for change. But the most catastrophic impact of porn is far wider reaching, and it happens on the other side of the screen.

“I got the sh*t kicked out of me,” said Regan Starr, a former pornography performer, while giving an account of abuse she suffered while filming. She goes on, “I was told before the video–and they said this very proudly, mind you–that in this line [of work] most of the girls start crying because they’re hurting so bad...I couldn’t breathe. I was being hit and choked. I was really upset, and they didn’t stop. They kept filming. You can hear me say, ‘Turn the f*cking camera off’, and they kept going.”

Unfortunately, Regan’s story is all too common. Former performer, Lisa Ann, shared why she left the industry with The Guardian:

There were times on set with people where I was like, ‘This is not a good situation. This is not safe. This girl is out of her mind and we’re not sure what she’s going to say when she leaves here.’ Everyone’s a ticking time bomb, and a lot of it is linked to the drugs. A lot of this new pain comes from these new girls who have to do these abusive scenes, because that does break you down as a woman.

With the overwhelming presence of violence in porn (one study found that 88 percent of the most popular scenes included “physical aggression such as gagging, choking, and slapping”, 94 percent of which was violence against women), the risk of physical and emotional damage to female performers is enormous. I say “performers,” but the kind of scenes Regan describes are anything but acting. In fact, in many instances, the women being abused on screen didn’t choose to appear at all.

The anti-trafficking non-profit, Rescue:Freedom found that in nine countries, 49 percent of women who had been sexually exploited said that their abusers filmed them for pornographic purposes while they were being sold for sex. With this content flooding the internet, any attempt to create a “legitimate” and “ethical” source for pornography proves woefully inadequate (visiting Pornhub’s so called “Wellness Center” feels a lot like reading the warning on the side of a cigarette pack).

A telling example of the aforementioned is that of a Missouri couple arrested in 2011 for beating, whipping, suffocating, and otherwise torturing a mentally handicapped girl until she agreed to produce porn for them. One of the images they took of her landed on the cover of a pornography publication owned by Hustler Magazine Group.

Founding Executive Director for the Wichita State University’s Center for Combating Human Trafficking, Dr. Karen Countryman-Roswurm, says that the role of pornography in sex trafficking is two-fold. Not only is pornography used by pimps and traffickers to advertise sexual abuse and find buyers online, but it is also a means to desensitize victims to the acts that are done to them.

The raw and dangerous truth is that when watching porn, it’s impossible for the viewer to know if he/she is watching a consensual act between adults—or rape. Even porn produced under so-called “ethical” circumstances is inseparable from sex trafficking—part of what Dr. Countryman-Roswurm describes as a “continuum of violence.” She warns, “The images in pornography encourage, promote, and normalize that people want violence during sex… Images of terror become a norm.”

Paint Bottle was right about one thing: We’re not robots. But we’ve been programmed for better than the perils of pornography.

—Maggie

Proverbs 31: 8-9