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Who Buys Sex? Linking Porn and Human Trafficking

Last Updated: June 21, 2021

Benjamin Nolot
Benjamin Nolot

Benjamin Nolot is the Founder and President of Exodus Cry and Producer/Writer/Director of the Nefarious documentary trilogy. Exodus Cry is an international anti-trafficking organization committed to abolishing modern-day slavery and assisting the victims of human trafficking through rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration into society. Nefarious is a series of three documentaries that expose the undercurrent of injustice beneath the global sex trade. Benjamin resides in Kansas City with his wife Lauren and their son Judah and daughter Jovienne.

I have seen the face of human trafficking.

While filming Nefarious: Merchant of Souls–a documentary on the global sex trade–I traveled to a small village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had heard that the village was a hotspot for child sex tourism, but I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived.

When the dust around my vehicle settled after the long trip down the bumpy dirt road, I saw a white western man standing in front of a dilapidated shack. The man, probably in his late 40s, was bartering for sex with a child outside of a shanty brothel.

My film crew and I quickly jumped out of our vehicle and began to approach the man. When he saw us, he took off down the dirt street towards the main highway and we gave chase, catching up to him just as he saddled the back of a moped taxi. I grabbed him by his shirt and stared straight into his eyes. The look on his face was one of sheer cowardice and it seemed that there was a literal film of perversion that glossed over his eyes. After I raised my voice, demanding that he never return to the village again, I let him go.

As we walked back to our vehicle, I pondered what I just faced. Why was this happening? Who was this man? Why was the most lucrative business in this village child sex tourism?

Then it hit me–this man didn’t wake up the day before and decide to fly to the other side of the world to buy a child for sex.

When we first started filming Nefarious in 2008, we did a series of random street interviews, asking people if they knew what human trafficking was and if they could explain it to us. To our surprise, most had no clue what human trafficking was, much less provide us with any insight.

However, over the past year or two, there has been an explosion of awareness concerning the issue of human trafficking. Almost everywhere I turn I am hearing something about it. But what is striking to me is that modern trafficking has been a significant problem for the better part of the past 30 years, yet it is only gaining widespread awareness now. I don’t think there is any explanation for this other than that God is simply highlighting this injustice in a pronounced way. I really believe that God is orchestrating a global awareness movement to draw people’s attention to this issue. And one of the main reasons is so that we begin to ask the question, “Why is this happening?”

When first considering human trafficking, it may not seem like the issue has anything to do with you or me. To us, human trafficking seems like a troubling issue that poor souls somewhere out there–somewhere far from here–are suffering from.

However, when we begin to ask the question “why?” when we consider human trafficking, we must look at our culture. What kind of culture is producing so many men who are eager to buy women and children for sex, contributing to a $32 billion per year human trafficking industry? I believe the answer is the kind of culture that produces and perpetuates a $100 billion per year pornography industry.

Of all the men we talked with who had purchased a woman or child for sex in prostitution, there wasn’t one who didn’t have a history of viewing pornography. The deviant behavior of men in our world is not simply pathological; it has been taught to them. The hyper-sexualization of this generation has awakened an unprecedented demand for illicit sex. When men pay to view sex, they aren’t too far from taking the step to buy sex.

Boys growing up in this culture form an objectified view of females at an early age. Ninety percent of them will view pornography between the ages of 8-16, with the average age of initial exposure being 11. When a young child’s fragile mind is exposed to the graphic images in pornography, it distorts his view of girls, sex, and relationships. He begins to see them as inanimate objects, devoid of humanity–a thing to be conquered instead of a person to love.

By the time many reach adulthood, they have been disinhibited by their exposure to the graphic images in pornography. Consequently, a man will only fantasize for so long before he begins to rise up and demand the living embodiment of his masturbation fantasy. The result is an entire generation of men who are mongering for sex and willing to pay for it.

After returning to the states, I e-mailed our contact in Cambodia to see if he could send me any “relics” from sex slavery in Cambodia for a human trafficking museum I was opening in Missouri. The next week he e-mailed me back and told me about some pajamas that he recently recovered in a brothel raid. They belonged to a 7-year-old girl in the village where he was based. The only problem, he explained, was that they were still stained with her blood from sexual abuse.

When most men first start looking at pornography, they often fail to consider the consequences of their actions. But the other end of pornography is the blood-stained pajamas of 7-year-old girls. And that is the face of human trafficking.

  • Comments on: Who Buys Sex? Linking Porn and Human Trafficking
    1. Emmanuel Danan on

      Straying after the eyes leads to tangible consequences. The evil inclination will NEVER EVER be satisfied unless it is chanelled. Is there any chance of fighting the sex trade it is an all encompassing all engaging which affects absolutely everyone WITH NO EXCEPTION. What is the way forward?

      Reply
    2. Emmanuel Danan on

      Is there any chance trying to fight the WORLD against this. Even when it is not pornography images of ill clad women arouses the evil inclination and from there it spirals out of control

      Reply
    3. Robert on

      This essay is silly. First of the number of 100 billion on porn is a crazy inflation straight out of Gail Dines propaganda. Even setting that aside and admitting that porn is everywhere the link between porn and trafficking is tenuous at best. Unfortunately this subject is hard to discuss rationally. Most people will only take away the horrific image of bloody pajamas. Trafficking and sex tourism is evil plain and simple. But the notion that consenting ADULTS looking at sexual images of other consenting ADULTS in sexual situations is to blame is ridiculous and not born out by anything other than anecdotal speculations. No science backs up these claims. If the link was that strong we’d see many more people engaging in this behavior. In reality only a very very small number of porn users will ever fly around the world to have sex with children. Whether it be violence and video games or guns and mass shootings you will always have outliers in which you can hang your hat and blame. All serial kilkers look at pornigraphy but we can all agree that its foolish then to extrapolate that all porn users are serial killers. This is no different. These travesties happening to one child is one too many. The reality is we need to look more at poverty and the deterioration of the family to understand what allows this to happen. History is rife with sexuslly exploited children. Its just that now we can see the global picture. By confusing the issues you dillute the very real need to stop this abomination.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        I disagree. As a consenting adult watching porn, I am endorsing the idea that women should be able to sell their bodies for money, that sex can be commodified and industrialized. This is a clear message taught by pornography, and there are many studies showing the impact of habitual porn use on sexual beliefs. There is also little doubt that the johns who represent the demand side of sex trafficking are themselves influenced by these beliefs.

        I agree there are a multitude of factors at play here (familial concerns, societal concerns, etc.). I also agree that few who watch porn ever themselves pay money for sex (from prostitutes or trafficked individuals). But those who are heavily involved in anti-trafficking movements have had a growing concern about the influence of porn. They see sex trafficking as the ugly tip of a very big iceberg, and that iceberg is the sexualization of children in media and the commodification of sex in culture.

    4. Robert on

      Even as someone who watches pornography I’m concerned about its ubiquity in culture. I was exposed to it at a young age and now look at what could be considered light erotica. Since I’m someone who doesn’t fall into the category of going from playboy to kiddie porn that this shades my view on whether its the bogeyman or not.. A lot of what I see available IS disconcerting. It’s more of a modern equivalent to a freak show than anything tittilating in a sexual sense. I can see blocking it from children. The British are trying a .xxx for adult material that you’d have to opt into when buying Internet. That is an equitable solution for exposure to kids.
      Unfortunately unless you are sex negative I feel the only true way to criticise this is to criticize pure capitalism. (by this I mean legal porn, not trafficking prostitution or child porn). The reason for this is the “industrialization and commodification” that you speak of is what pure capitalism does to everything. The people making iPods in china or stripping metals out of computers for little money are exploited in a totally ugly fashion.
      As to the studies you speak of please post a few links if you could. I’m open to all arguments. Unfortunately many anti porn people quote the likes of Gail Dines who uses anecdotes and hyperbole to back up her ideas (all while making a tidy profit off the sex workers she so despises).
      Finally, what is your solution? A ban on pornography? At what point do we start? Is it actual sex, simulated sex, nudity, bathing suits, knees, ankles or hair? Laws aren’t the answer to stopping porn societal values would need to change. I’d also argue that if this is as bad as you say I think it’s probably more a symptom than the disease. Women have been devalued since way before porn became so prevalent.
      Thanks for the response BTW.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Hi Robert,

        I’m not advocating change on a political level. While I think there could be merit to that in specific instances, I’m not proposing political maneuvering as the solution to the industrialization of sex. Pure capitalism is a philosophy of commerce, and when unchecked by other values, it can demoralizing. Nations as political entities can espouse pure capitalism, but that does not mean that her citizens need to be guided by that alone. I am advocating cultural change: a change in mindsets and attitudes.

        As for the studies about the impact of porn on sexual beliefs, I could point you to a few studies that might interest you.

        The research done by Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant about the impact of video pornography on sexual attitudes and beliefs is noteworthy. After exposing groups to differing amounts of video pornography numerous times over a 6 week period, they studied the correlation between the amount of pornography consumed a variety of other factors: sexual satisfaction, attraction to casual sex, the belief that minors should be protected from seeing porn, the acceptance of premarital sex, the trivialization of rape, the support of women’s rights, beliefs about the commonness of sexual practices in the broader culture, and gender stereotypes. You can find their stuff published here:
        – Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Effects of massive exposure to pornography,” in Pornography and Sexual Aggression (New York: Academic Press, 1984)
        – Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Shifting preferences in pornography consumption,” Communication Research 13 (1986); 560-578
        – Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Pornography’s impact on sexual satisfaction,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 18 (1988): 438–453
        – Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography on Family Values,” Journal of Family Issues 9 (1988): 518-544

        In 2007 by Jochen Peter and Patti M. Valkenburg, a study of 2,305 Dutch adolescents aged 13-20 years old, found sexually explicit Internet material significantly increased uncertainties about sexuality and increased favorable attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration. Specifically, exposure to sexually explicit online movies was significantly correlated to the belief that women are sex objects. You can find that in Sex Roles, volume 56, p.381-395.

        In a Communication Monographs study called “Men’s Behavior Toward Women After Viewing Sexually-Explicit Films: Degradation Makes a Difference,” 71 male undergraduate students were divided into 3 groups. Each group watched 10-11-minute video segments: a sexually-explicit and degrading film, a sexually-explicit educational film, and a non-sexual film. Later the men were placed side-by-side with a woman in a seemingly unrelated social experiment.– Viewers of the sexually-explicit film displayed more dominance and anxiety, ignored contributions of their partner more often, touched their partner for longer periods of time, and averted their partner’s gaze more compared to viewers of the non- sexual film.– Viewers of the sexually-explicit and degrading film spent longer periods of time averting their partner’s touch and gazing at their partner’s face, interrupted their partner more, advanced to touch their partner more, and made more sexual references compared to viewers of the sexually-explicit film.

        In a meta-analysis of 46 studies published from 1962 to 1995, comprising a total sample of 12,323 people, researchers concluded pornographic material puts one at increased risk of:– developing sexually deviant tendencies (31% increase in risk),– committing sexual offenses (22% increase in risk),– and accepting rape myths (31% increase in risk). You can read about that in Jill Manning’s “Hearing on pornography’s impact on marriage & the family,” she presented to the U.S. Senate in 2005.

        Bear in mind, I wouldn’t claim that pornography alone is the culprit behind problematic sexual beliefs. Far from it.

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