7 minute read

The Connections Between Pornography and Sex Trafficking

Last Updated: October 7, 2020

Guest Author

Want to write for the Covenant Eyes blog? Share the story of your journey to freedom from pornography. Let us know how you overcame porn or how Covenant Eyes has made a difference in your life or the lives of those you love.

This post has been updated as of October 2020.

We often hear today about the horrors of sex trafficking, overseas and in the United States. We are appalled at those who would hold women and children as sex slaves, deny them their human rights, and make them mere objects for sexual pleasure. At the same time, pornography is tolerated, accepted, openly defended, and even celebrated. [1] Society views sex trafficking as something we ought to combat, yet it sees pornography as simply another genre of entertainment.

This dichotomy between sex trafficking and the realities of pornography is a serious misconception that needs to be addressed. As individuals who seek to oppose sex trafficking, we must understand its linkage to pornography. In this post, we will look at how pornography drives demand for sex trafficking, how victims of trafficking are used in the production of pornography, and finally, we will see that the production of pornography constitutes sex trafficking under current legal definitions.

Porn drives demand for sex trafficking.

According to Shared Hope International’s report on the demand for sex trafficking, pornography is the primary gateway to the purchase of humans for commercial sex. Why this is so becomes clear when we think critically about what pornography is and how it affects its consumers.

Pornography comes from the Greek words porne, meaning “prostituted woman” or “prostitution”, and the word graphos, meaning “writings.” If we can begin to comprehend that what is depicted in pornography is not simply sex or sexuality, but commercial sexual exploitation, we can begin to rightly appreciate the negative and corrosive effects of this content.

Catherine Mackinon, a professor at Harvard Law School, says that “consuming pornography is an experience of bought sex” and thus it creates a hunger to continue to purchase and objectify, and act out what is seen. [2] And in a very literal way, pornography is advertising for trafficking, not just in general but also in the sense that traffickers and pimps use pornographic images of victims as specific advertising for their “products.” [3]

In addition, viewing pornography and gratifying oneself with it ends up short-circuiting the sexual process. This creates a drug-like addiction which distorts the individual’s view on sexuality. It also trains the mind to expect sexual fulfillment on demand, and to continually seek more explicit or violent content to create the same high. [4]

As Victor Malarek put it in his book The Johns: “The message is clear: if prostitution is the main act, porn is the dress rehearsal.” [5] Pornography becomes a training ground for johns/tricks. When pornography is the source of sex education for our generation, the natural outcome is a culture of commercial sex and sex trafficking.

Trafficking victims are exploited in the production of pornography.

Many women and children who are being sexually exploited and trafficked are also being used for the production of pornography. Sometimes acts of prostitution are filmed without the consent of the victim and distributed. [6] On other occasions, victims are trafficked for the sole purpose of porn production. In today’s era of webcams and chatrooms, the lines between interactive pornography and virtual prostitution websites have been blurred. [7] According to Donna Hughes, “porn and internet sex shows are markets for trafficked victims.” Truly, pornography is another avenue for women to be trafficked. [8]

Porn actors and actresses are often construed as no different from those who chose to have any other career in the entertainment industry. There is little cultural understanding that many of those involved in pornography are otherwise victims of sex trafficking. Despite this lack of general awareness, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), which created our current federal legislation against sex trafficking, it states that people are trafficked into and exploited in pornography.[9]

Mainstream porn production is a form of trafficking.

Under the TVPA sex trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” [10] The realities of the porn industry are perfectly described in the definition of sex trafficking in TVPA.

A commercial sex act is “any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.” [11] Pornography qualifies as a commercial sex act in two ways. First, the production of pornography involves the payment of individuals to perform sex acts before a camera. Most performers in the industry are paid for different films or photoshoots. Because they are produced by recording actual events, real men, women, and children are actually engaging in sexual acts, often repeatedly to get the desired shot. In this way, the production of pornography is without question a case of commercial sex acts, in this case, performed on camera.

Secondly, “consuming pornography is an experience of bought sex.” [12] The experience of using pornography is a sexual one for the viewer, or as Catherine Mackinon put it, “porn is used as sex (masturbation). Therefore it is sex.” [13] Further, it is a commercial sex act in this sense because money or other items of value (clothes, cars, alcohol, drugs, etc.) are exchanged on account of this sexual experience for the consumer. The pornographers are receiving direct monetary benefit from providing this sexual act.

Recruitment for the porn industry occurs in many ways. One former porn performer tells of being bombarded with calls to come and perform after posting a personal ad, while others were recruited through social media. According to those who were in the business of pornography, there are times when girls are held captive on porn sets or driven under the command of a pornographer or agent to and from the sets, which would fit the definition of “harboring and transporting.” Finally, the provision is tangible in both the physical acts that are documented and the product that is supplied to countless consumers across the world. The porn industry is continually providing the world with commercial sex acts, which can be consumed without end.

At this point, what we have seen is that the production and consumption of pornography in many instances fully qualifies as sex trafficking as defined by U.S. federal law. Yet, under the TVPA, only a “severe form of trafficking”—one that involves “force, fraud, or coercion”—can be prosecuted. This is discomforting to know that in our legal system we tolerate and accept certain instances of sex trafficking. Even so, many instances of porn production do involve some level of force, fraud, or coercion; we just need some political will to investigate and prosecute it. [14]

You do not have to look hard for force in the production of pornography, because even at the surface level, the violence towards the actors involved is evident. Pornographers themselves describe the violence they perpetrate on their performers without the consent of the actors.

Former porn actress Jan Meza describes the fraud in the industry. She says that the actors and actresses do not know what they are agreeing to or after their initial agreement they couldn’t get away. Something that should be noted, especially in the case of fraud, but also generally, that federal law is clear that initial consent does not preclude the possibility of the individual being victimized. Pornographers, like other pimps, learn how to exploit economic and psychological vulnerabilities to coerce them to get into and stay in the sex industry. [15] Other times they threaten or use alcohol and drugs to induce compliance, which is included in some state definitions for coercion.

The other criteria to establish that a particular case is a severe form of sex trafficking is that the minor is under eighteen years of age. Shared Hope International estimates that one in five pornographic images online is of a child. The prominence of this speaks to the very “severe” nature of the porn industry. Yet even among the material that is not deemed “child pornography” you can find individuals under the age of eighteen.

Having understood the interconnectedness of pornography and sex trafficking, we must resolve to no longer erect false distinctions between pornography and sex trafficking. In seeking justice for those who are commercially sexually exploited, accepting and using pornography is not an option.  It’s time to understand the reality of pornography and act accordingly.

Stop the Demand: The Role of Porn in Sex Trafficking


Ana Stutler served as a pureJUSTICE intern during the summer of 2011. She was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, where her parents serve as missionaries. She is a 2011 graduate of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a degree in International Relations, and is pursuing law at Wayne State Law School in Detroit, Michigan.

 

 

[1] Mackinnon, Catharine A. “Pornography as Trafficking.” Pornography: Driving the Demand in International Sex Trafficking. By David E. Guinn and Julie DiCaro. [Los Angeles]: Captive Daughters Media, 2007. 31-42. Print, 32

[2] Mackinnon, “Pornography as Trafficking,” 34.

[3] Farley, Melissa. Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections. San Francisco, CA: Prostitution Research & Education, 2007. Print, 153.

[4] Struthers, William M. Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009. Print, 97-99.

[5] Malarek, Victor. The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It. Toronto: Key Porter, 2009. Print, 196.

[6]  Smith, Linda, and Cindy Coloma. Renting Lacy: a Story of America’s Prostituted Children. Vancouver, WA: Shared Hope International, 2009. Print, 15-25.

[7] Malarek, 203.

[8] Farley, 154

[9] U.S. Dept. of State, Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA)2000, Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (2001) (enacted). Print, Sec 102 (2).

[10] U.S. Dept. of State, Sec 103 of TVPA 2000 (8) (A), (9).

[11] U.S. Dept. of State, sec 103 (3).

[12] Mackinnon, “Pornography as Trafficking,” 34.

[13] MacKinnon, Catharine A. Only Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1996. Print,17.

[14] U.S. Dept. of State, Sec 103 of TVPA 2000 (8) (A), (9).

[15] Farley, 153.

 

  • Comments on: The Connections Between Pornography and Sex Trafficking
    1. michael fisler on

      I need to talk to someone about getting this young ladies out of the internet porn ring place help me

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        In you’re talking about minors, you need to go to the police right away.

    2. Jason Bolster on

      One of the biggest motivations towards purity for me was when some women came back from Hillsong’s Colour Conference with facts about the A21 Campaign. I couldn’t help thinking not that what I do when I’m walking down the street in summertime is exactly what drives the demand for that vile industry. I’ve prided myself on not buying coffee or chocolate unless it’s fair trade, yet I’ve benefitted from slavery in that way without any qualms. I urge anyone who struggles in this way to find about the A21 movement and realise that you need to support one or the other.

      Reply
    3. Norb on

      Most of what I’ve read and watched on Covenant Eyes has been good stuff, but I have to say that this article is at best intellectually dishonest. The author cites Catherine MacKinnon as a “Harvard Law Professor”, and references four of her articles. What’s not mentioned is that Ms. MacKinnon is also a radical feminist who has gone on record as stating that the First Amendment is a tool for male oppression. Radical feminism is also on record as being anti-Christian. After all, Paul’s teaching does mention wives submitting to husbands which makes Christianity a tool for male oppression. Hate speech! Ban it! Seriously, does Covenant Eyes really want to associate with this, even if only peripherally?

      Now to the gist of the article. Sorry, but the idea that every single porn performer is a victim of sex trafficking is pretzel logic at best, a pack of lies at worst (and Christians are supposed to tell the truth, right?). Many, if not most, performers have gone on record as stating that it’s a good gig and an ideal job for an exhibitionist. Perverse? Yes. Sinful? Definitely. Wrong? Absolutely. However, it is also an exercise of the free will that God gives us all, and which may be exercised in a democratic republic provided no one’s rights are violated. At this point, it should be mentioned that it is already highly illegal to produce or even possess porn involving minors, force people into prostitution, or engage in sex trafficking. People go to jail for these crimes all the time; just read the news.

      If you want to help me stay away from porn, stick to Christian truths and facts. If you tell me that using porn is contrary to God’s will, I get that. If you tell me that porn robs my wife of time and affection that she’s entitled to as my soul mate and partner, I get that. I need to improve and work on my sinful nature. If you tell me that porn is an addiction akin to drug abuse and alcoholism, I’m somewhat skeptical. I’ve dealt with alcohol abuse. Believe me, it’s not the same. Not even close. The psychological cravings arising from alcohol withdrawal were hellish for a long time after I quit. Not using porn is nothing compared to that. Still, I understand that there is valid science behind the addiction theory, even if there’s not universal agreement. It’s certainly worth thinking about. However, if you hand me dishonest propaganda written by people with an agenda that contradicts my core beliefs, sorry, ain’t buying it.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Hey Norb,

        I’m not sure MacKinnon’s radical feminism makes her observations about sex trafficking or pornography inaccurate. I’m well aware of what radical feminism stands for (and against), but Christians have long joined with radical feminists in these sorts of social causes. For a long time radical feminists have stood on stages with Christians to partner with them in certain social efforts. If we were citing MacKinnon as some kind of authority on gender or Christian ethics, I could see why this would be a problem. But we’re siting her because of her legal expertise to expose the false dichotomy between porn and sex trafficking.

        I have no problem quoting secular or even anti-Christian authorities when they are making accurate statements. Think of Paul’s famous sermon before the court in Athens where he quotes a Stoic poet writing a hymn to a pantheistic Zeus (Acts 17:28). Though Paul isn’t endorsing Stoicism or pantheism, he is capitalizing on truths found within Stoicism in order to make his point. Similarly, I would have no problem quoting an anti-Christian feminist if what they were saying was true. Merely quoting something does not mean endorsement of that person’s entire body of work, and it would be ridiculous to hold any writer to that standard.

        I’m not sure what you mean by “every single porn performer is a victim of sex trafficking.” The article outline on what conditions a specific porn actress ought to be considered trafficked. The article merely claims that “in many instances” the creation of porn ought to qualify as sex trafficking, and “many instances of porn production do involve some level of force, fraud, or coercion.” There are no claims here that this is universally true. Sorry it gives that impression.

        Thanks for sharing with us what you do and do not find the most persuasive. However, in my mind, the brutal realities women face in the sex business are not non-Christian truths. They are simply truths, and many Christians concerned about social justice are often awakened by these realities. We hear from men and women all the time that actually being confronted with the underbelly of the porn industry is eye-opening to them.

        As far as porn being an addiction, don’t take our word for it. We’re merely citing the studies that have lead people to those conclusions. As for the hellish cravings, I think it is important to distinguish addiction (which is a relationship one has with a substance or action) and dependence. No doubt, porn addiction isn’t like alcoholism in every way, but I know we also have never claimed such to be true.

    4. Norb on

      Luke,
      To be honest, I’m troubled by some aspects of your reply. By stating that you have no qualms about using anti-Christian sources to bolster an anti-porn argument, you are in effect stating that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, which is a deeply cynical and worldly point of view. Leaving aside the issue of MacKinnon’s veracity, the fact remains that partnering with radical feminists is several orders of magnitude above what Paul did when he quoted Greek poets in Acts. Worse, doing so dilutes the message of the Gospel, which is the task of every Christian to spread, as per Matthew 28:16-20. As a Christian man (albeit a deeply flawed one), I have deeply loved many women in my life, and so find the radical feminist worldview to be insulting and revolting. I’m sure I speak for many of my peers if I tell you that you are sadly mistaken if you think that I’ll be persuaded by radical feminist arguments. Of course porn is a seamy business. Its very nature makes it so. That doesn’t mean that all or even most of its female participants are coerced or enslaved, which is exactly what MacKinnon and the above article are stating or at least strongly implying. As an aside, I find it interesting that neither the article or the radical feminists mention male performers or men who do gay porn. I suppose they just don’t care about guys being exploited.

      If we truly have faith in God, we are to trust him completely, right? Why then, does a Christian organization feel a need to partner with people who are only in agreement on one issue and hostile to Christianity in most every other core belief? Is Covenant Eyes obeying the Great Commission by doing that? I don’t think so.

      If I’m told to turn away from sin and turn to God, I will accept that if I’m a believer. God’s word in scripture is enough for that, and is the rock on which I stand. Feminist propaganda will not help me. Studies citing addiction where the jury is still out on the scientific validity will get me thinking, but it’s not the real McCoy

      I’m glad you seem to understand that there is a distinction between alcoholism/substance abuse and non-narcotic compulsive behavior. The term “addiction” seems to be bandied about rather loosely these days. It seems that almost any destructive or compulsive behavior is being labeled as such. I don’t see the use of it.

      Reply
      • Anthony D. on

        So apparently if God works through someone you don’t agree with to share His truth, you either doubt His omnipotence to do so or deny His truth because of the logical fallacy you are committing of guilt by association.

      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Hey Norb,

        Perhaps a more robust explanation is in order. When I liken quoting radical feminists to Paul quoting the Greek poet Aratus, I see very little difference. Aratus was a pantheist who would have utterly rejected the Christian conception of God as personal and involved in the lives of people, let alone a God who would act in history, establish covenants, and send his Son to die for sins (or even have a Son for that matter). The very Stoic philosophers whom Paul was preaching to would have taken the same view. Nonetheless, Paul was okay to quote Aratus because he was using a theme from his classic poem to find common ground between himself and his audience.

        That’s what quoting a radical feminist is for me. We live in a culture that (rightly or wrongly) has been very influenced by radical feminism, and many Christians have even been influenced by it. By citing principles common to both Christians and radical feminists, we find common ground and can more easily move forward in discussions.

        That said, I completely acknowledge this article may not be the best article for a Christian audience. There are probably many other articles on our site that could do a better job with the topic.

        I’m not sure what you mean by us partnering with organizations that are hostile to Christianity. We have no formal partnerships like that (that I’m aware of).

    5. Norb on

      Luke,
      “partner with” was a poor choice of words. I apologize. “Find common cause with” would be, I hope, a better expression as to how CE works with radical feminists. Do you agree? I agree that there are many articles on CE’s website that do a better job discussing the issue, and I thank CE for that.

      Anthony D, the whole point of my replies was to express disagreement with an article that cited a radical feminist, who wasn’t identified as such by the author. I also expressed concern about a Christian organization using such material as a source, for the reasons shown. I don’t know on what basis you are concluding that the Lord is working through them; I think it’s wrong to presume that anyone can truly know that. I wasn’t declaring anyone guilty of anything. I was arguing with the central point of an article, so maybe you can elaborate on what you meant by “guilt by association”.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Yes, that’s a fair assessment.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *