I stood before a less-than-captive audience at the local community college talking about the subject of pornography. I had been called in as a “special lecturer” for a required Ethics class to discuss the moral problems associated with porn. In order to wake the class from their usual slumber, I decided to show a video testimony of an ex-porn star who unabashedly talks about the debasement and brutality of the sex industry.
The students woke up pretty quickly. Many who had never considered that watching pornography was a moral issue suddenly changed their tune.
That day I learned a couple things I will never forget. First, when it comes to motivating others, never underestimate the power of a good story. Today’s filmmakers are modern day storytellers, and like all storytellers, they have the power to shape our emotional chemistry and move us to action. Second, one of the easiest ways to rip off the alluring mask pornography wears is to show how it is vitally connected to the cruel world of commercial sex.
The Awful Reality of Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery where victims are forced, defrauded, or coerced into labor or sexual service. “The victims of modern slavery have many faces,” said President Barak Obama in last year’s Trafficking in Persons report. “They are men and women, adults and children. Yet, all are denied basic human dignity and freedom…All too often suffering from horrible physical and sexual abuse, it is hard for them to imagine that there might be a place of refuge.”
- Globally, human trafficking is a $32-billion business, making it the second most lucrative crime in the world (after drug trafficking).
- Trafficking does not necessarily involve transporting victims over national lines, although about 800,000 victims are trafficked this way every year.
- In the U.S., over a quarter of a million American kids fall victim to commercial sexual exploitation each year. This outnumbers international victims in the U.S. 11 to 1.
For many victims of human trafficking in general, sexual assault and violence is commonplace. But for other victims of trafficking, prostitution or sex slavery is the very reason they are bought and sold. This is known as sex trafficking, and it is a global reality. From the sex tourism of India and Cambodia to the underground prostitution rings of Eastern Europe and the United States, the total market value of the sex trade is $28 billion.
The Porn Connection: Supply and Demand
Sex trafficking is the big tip of a very ugly iceberg, but what does pornography have to do with it?
Laura Lederer, former Senior Advisor on Trafficking in Persons for the U.S. State Department, thinks there is a vital connection. “Pornography is a brilliant social marketing campaign for commercial sexual exploitation,” she says. No, not all or even most pornography is created by traffickers. But a key ingredient to commercial sex is the belief that people (women especially) are sexual commodities, and Internet pornography is the ideal vehicle to teach and train this belief.
Porn drives demand for trafficking. It creates the appetite. “It drives people to the place where they become comfortable with commercial sex,” says Noel Bouche, Vice President of pureHOPE. Of course, not all porn consumers endorse human trafficking, but by their actions, they do tacitly endorse the objectification of women and the commodifying of sex.
Fighting sex trafficking, according to Ms. Lederer, means not only fighting it on the supply side—demanding better laws, better law enforcement, and putting systems in place to rescue and rehabilitate victims—but also on the demand side. As a society, we must fight the venomous ideas that feed the demand for commercial sex. Those concerned about trafficking must fight any form of sexual exploitation and objectification wherever it is found.
“We will never have success in eradicating sex trafficking,” says Ms. Lederer, “unless and until we tackle the cultural messages of pornography and related materials that are encouraging this exploitation and abuse.” Media has the power to shape culture, and the choice before each and every consumer is what kind of media they will endorse, the values they want their culture to embrace. When media sanctions the belief that it is normal—even natural—for men to use and abuse women, that women are only worth the sexual pleasure they give to men, then it works like a poison in the culture. In pornography, this message comes through loud and clear. Therefore, by consuming pornography we allow that poison to infect us, spread further into our culture, and dampen the voice of justice.
10 Seconds: Showing the Demand Side
Ms. Lederer believes it is high time for anti-porn and anti-trafficking advocates to ally themselves under the banner of fighting sexual exploitation. And just as commercial sex is promoted by pornographic media, those who want to combat it must have their own social marketing campaign, their own media. “We’ve got to reverse engineer,” says Lederer.
And some filmmakers are fighting fire with fire, making their own media showing the brutality of commercial sex and trafficking.
Fictional films that dare to take on this heavy topic typically place either the victims or the rescuers at the center of the action. Award-winning short films like Fields of Mudan and Svetlana’s Journey show the brutal, often overly-realistic, life of children forced into sex slavery. Other full-length blockbusters tend to show the drama of search-and-rescue. While some films, like Taken with Liam Neeson, rely on more Die-Hard-esque action sequences, others like Trade (starring Kevin Kline) and Holly (starring Ron Livingston) capture the real grit of sex tourism in densely-populated capitals like Mexico City and Phnom Penh.
But few films place the demand side of sex trafficking in the limelight. Who are these men who go to such lengths to pay for sex? What is their story?
This is exactly what the new independent film 10 Seconds seeks to capture.
Jessejames Locorriere plays Gilbert Horn, a successful business and family man with a sinister secret of sex addiction. On the surface he seems to be living an admirable life: a thriving executive, personable and friendly, large home, adorable kids, beautiful wife. What his colleagues and family don’t know is that he has developed a sexual compulsion that is consuming his mind, even taking him to the doorsteps of an underground brothel tucked away on the fringes of his own community.
The short film does not give us the back-story on Gilbert’s life. The audience doesn’t find out what brought him to this point, but we are given some clues. Gilbert’s fantasy life, driven in part by pornography, has spiraled out of control. The film offers viewers a snapshot of the darkest moments of his addiction, the series of events where his secrets are unraveled.
In a parallel fashion, the film also follows a small group of young girls who have been trafficked internationally to suburban America. By the end of the film, viewers are brought to a disquieting climax as Gilbert’s addiction intersects with the lives of these young girls.
10 Seconds is raw and at times difficult to watch. While it does not soft-pedal Gilbert’s sexual rage, it tells a compelling story without titillating the audience. For someone who has struggled to control a porn habit, the movie will offer a knot-in-your-stomach portrait of what happens to a man when his lust has taken complete control.
Using Film to Teach
Nefarious: Merchant of Souls – An Exodus Cry doumentary examining the global problem, interviewing victims, johns, and pimps
Sex Slaves – Documentary from PBS’s Frontline
Demand – Examines the buyer demand for sex in the U.S., Japan, Jamaica, and the Netherlands
The Candy Shop – Called a “sex trade fairytale,” a short fantasy film that aims to fuel the growing anti-slavery movement in Atlanta, Georgia
Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth – Documentary about domestic minor sex trafficking and the modern-day abolitionist movement fighting to stop it
Cargo: Innocence Lost – Examines the shrouded crime of sex trafficking in the U.S. through compelling interviews with some of the country’s top officials
Playground – A candid look at the exploitation of children and how America is a leading contributor to the problem
Abolition – A frank documentary about the problem of the exploitation of children in Atlanta, one of the top ten cities in the world for child sex trafficking
Turning a Corner – Tells the stories of those involved in fighting the sex trade in Chicago
Branded – Explores the problem of child prostitution on the streets of Phoenix
Calcutta Hilton – A powerful story of one couple’s effort to rescue women from the red light district in Calcutta
Born into Brothels – An Academy Award-winning documentary about the children who live in the red light district of Calcutta, where their mothers work as prostitutes
The Day My God Died – A feature-length documentary that presents the stories of young girls whose lives have been shattered by the child sex trade in Bombay
Ray of Hope – The story of one girl named Suhana who was trafficked not once, but twice
Call + Response – Examines human trafficking from the child brothels of Cambodia to the slave brick kilns of rural India
Children For Sale – NBC’s Dateline travels with an undercover human rights group in Cambodia
The Virgin Harvest – An emotionally-charged, undercover peek at trafficking in Cambodia and stories of rescue
Sacrifice – Examines the social, economic, and cultural forces behind the trafficking of girls from rural Burmese villages into Thailand
Trafficking Cinderella – Story of Eastern European girls prostituted throughout the world
Bought & Sold – Film that documents the trafficking in women for forced prostitution out of the former Soviet Union into Europe, Asia, and the United States