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Bound and Intertwined: The Link between Pornography and Human Trafficking – Part 1

By Bill Woolf

The human trafficking of children is a topic which continues to garner much attention in the United States. The prevalence of the issue and the negative, life-altering effects the crime has on its victims are often highlighted in the public arena. However, there has not been much discussion on the causal factors that have allowed the trafficking of persons to explode at the rate it has. According to the Department of Justice, human trafficking has become the second largest criminal enterprise in the world and is continuing to grow at an exponential rate.1 Traffickers are targeting increasingly younger victims, with the most common age that children are entering the commercial sex industry being 14 to 16 years old.2 In understanding why trafficking is growing so rapidly, it is important to highlight the connection that trafficking has with another societal problem, one that is just as difficult to talk about as sex trafficking—pornography. Pornography has become a very controversial subject in today's culture of sex. Many will argue that pornography is an expression of free speech and some even argue that it is beneficial to women's rights and encourages healthy sexuality.3 However, these are perversions of the truth and a result of the distorted culture of sex that we live in today. There are many anti-pornography arguments, and many are valid. However, this article focuses strictly on the issue of how pornography is a causal factor of human trafficking with a direct link between the increased availability of online pornography and the increase in the trafficking of persons.

Pornography affects human trafficking in two significant ways. First, viewers of pornography often become consumers of sex trafficking. Second, pornography is a tool being utilized by the traffickers to desensitize and manipulate young people into commercial sex trafficking scenarios. Pornography can be likened to drug addiction. Dr. William Struthers, a neuroscientist, points out that "continued use of pornography literally erodes the prefrontal region of the brain, responsible for our willpower."4 When a person engages in self-gratification through pornography the brain releases extraneous amounts of dopamine in the brain. Eventually, over exertion of the dopamine receptors and signals cause them to fatigue wherein the consumer must increase their intake of the drug—and in this case pornography—to be able to reach the initial level of satisfaction.5 This increased intake can be both quantitative, an increase in the amount they are viewing, and qualitative, an increase in the graphic and explicit nature of the content. Thus begins a downward spiral of desensitization eventually numbing the prefrontal cortex.6  

Because the prefrontal cortex controls our impulses and desires, when it becomes numb, the brain has to create different neural pathways for those sexual desires. The brain reroutes them through the midbrain, a region not believed to be able to control reason or regulate behavior. At that point, the desire becomes a compulsion because the brain has essentially lost its willpower or ability to suppress emotions or unhealthy urges in a phenomenon called hypofrontality.7 In my experience working as a detective and investigating sex crimes, these compulsions can lead men to seek out fulfillment of their fantasies through the commercial sex industry. In fact, a study revealed that 86% of those engaged in commercial sex reported that their clients showed them pornography in order to illustrate specific acts they wanted them to perform.8 These acts, often violent in nature, are reported by the consumers of pornography and commercial sex as something unwilling to be fulfilled by their intimate partners, culminating in their pursuit of the sex trade. 

The level of violence witnessed in these films has conditioned viewers to trivialize sexual assault and normalize paraphilic acts such as anal sex, group sex, sadomasochism, and bestiality.9 Dr. Mary Ann Layden, a clinical psychologist, points out that pornography gives way to "Permission-Giving Beliefs" which are a set of beliefs that imply that their behavior is normal, acceptable, and common. Her research has shown that men who engaged in excessive pornographic viewing behaviors begin to believe that "all men use prostitutes", "sex is a commodity", "women really enjoy violent and degrading sex", "it's a job", and "prostitutes love sex and make money doing it", among other beliefs that justify the consumer engaging in the commercial sex trade.10 However, in my experiences, I have never once interviewed a commercial sex worker who has said they "enjoyed" what they did.  

This is not to say that everyone who watches pornography will end up engaging in commercial sex, but it certainly is a causal factor driving the demand for commercial sex. Concerningly, statistics show that one in ten men will purchase sex at some point in their lives, ensuring that there will always be a market for our exploited and trafficked youth.11 

It is imperative that we understand that the harmful effects of pornography extend beyond simply destroying relationships. These behaviors can lead to, and perpetuate the sexual exploitation of children. Pornography is not something that is limited to the private setting of someone's home or computer screen, but rather is contributing to the demoralizing crime of human trafficking, destroying the lives of so many young people.

1. United States Department of Justice. "Human Trafficking". Retrieved October 21, 2017.
2. Shared Hope International. "What is Sex Trafficking?" Infograph. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
3. Wendy McElroy. "A Feminist Defense of Pornography." Free Inquiry Magazine, Volume 17, Number 4.
4. William Struthers.  "Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain." Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2009.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Evelinia Giobbe. "Confronting the Liberal Lies about Prostitution." Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism. Elmsford, Pergamon. 1990.
9. Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant. "Effects of massive exposure to pornography." Pornography and Sexual Aggression. New York: Academic Press. 1984.
10. Mary Ann Layden. "Testimony for U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation." November 18, 2004.
11.London School of Hygiene. "National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles". 2014.

Bound and Intertwined: The Link between Pornography and Human Trafficking

(Part 2)

By Bill Woolf

Editor's note: This is a two­part article addressing the human trafficking of children and the link between it and the consumption of pornography. In
the first article, we discussed how the viewers of
pornography can, and do, become the consumers of

sex trafficking. This second article discusses how pornography is a tool being used by traffickers to desensitize and manipulate young people into commercial sex trafficking scenarios, along with ways that we can combat this issue and better protect children from sexual abuse.

The issue of sex trafficking is a growing problem.
Unfortunately, it is being fueled by the culture of sex
that we live in today. Pornography is a gateway into
the exploitive and life­taking world of sex trafficking.
As Victor Malarek noted in his book, The Johns, "The message is clear: if prostitution is the main act, porn is the dress rehearsal."1 The power of pornography and its relationship to sex trafficking is disturbing and frightening. Not only is it driving the client base, or demand, of the sex trade, but it is also influencing our youth and making them more vulnerable to becoming victims of sex trafficking.

Pornography is available, literally, at the click of a button. Without safeguards put in place by parents or others providing internet access to children, young people can find pornographic images and videos with little to no effort using any device with online capabilities. I once interviewed a 14­year­old boy, who told me that his curiosity was first sparked when he was watching an innocent video on YouTube. The video was that of teenagers playing pranks on each other. One of the teenagers pulled down the pants of another exposing his buttocks, which was enough to spark the intrigue and interest of this young teen. Acting on impulse and curiosity, he began searching the internet; six months later he was addicted to pornography.

The availability of these types of images and videos has leaked into mainstream culture and it has become commonplace for teenagers to share what they have found with others. Pornography has become the main source of 'sex education' for our younger generations; the primary lesson being that sex is recreational and people are a disposable commodity. Not only does pornography reinforce this false ideology, but it subscribes to a doctrine that teaches the greatest physical pleasure is derived from impulsive sexual intercourse with a stranger. Young people are being indoctrinated with views that they are simply a commodity and that their existence and self­worth are based around their sexuality. While this is factually incorrect, this is what the culture of sex teaches our youth. This primes them to be persuaded and coerced into a life of commercial sex. If their self­worth is dependent on their sexuality (how sexually desirable they are), what better way to show themselves how valuable they truly are than to have someone pay money for their sexuality? Now our children can put an actual dollar amount to their self­worth, right? This is certainly the line that the traffickers are selling to our youth, reinforced by the pornography industry where 'actors and actresses' are alleged to make millions of dollars and are 'famous', glamorizing the lifestyle.

The most direct link between pornography and trafficking is that in many cases pornography is sex trafficking. Let's first look at the definition of pornography. According to Webster's dictionary, pornography comes from the words porne, meaning "prostituted woman" or "prostitution", and the word graphos, meaning "writings".2 Therefore, a simple understanding of the word itself proves that the two are intertwined. The definition of commercial sex trafficking in the United States is when "a commercial sex act (sex in exchange for something of value) is induced by force, fraud, or coercion."3 One might allege that force is not being used in the production of pornography. However, certainly there are plenty of documented cases in which fraud and coercion are used. Donna Hughes highlights statements made by former 'porn stars': "I was threatened that if I did not do the scene I was going to get sued for lots of money", "[I] told them to stop but they wouldn't stop until I started to cry and ruined the scene", "He told me that I had to do it and if I can't, he would charge me and I would lose any other bookings I had because I would make his agency look bad."4 These threats placed on young and naïve people are clearly coercive in nature. According to the United Nations, whether or not they felt they consented to the filming "becomes irrelevant whenever any of the 'means' of trafficking [force, fraud, threat of force, etc.] are used".5

What can we do?

To effect real change, society needs to combat that which has become commonplace and the 'norm'. Additionally, as noted in the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S. State Department, "Rejecting long­held notions such as 'boys will be boys' and sending the clear message that buying sex is wrong is not just a task for governments, but will require partnerships throughout society, including the faith and business communities."6 It is vital that our communities stand up and raise awareness on this issue. We cannot hope to reduce the instance of trafficking of persons and children, if we do not reduce the consumption of pornography. Each of us has a role in combatting the trafficking that is going on in our communities. For those who are still are not sure if trafficking is occurring in their community, Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reminds us, "The only way not to find this problem in any city is simply not to look for it."7 Simply hosting a public awareness campaign like that of the Just Ask Trafficking Prevention Project at your local parish or school can effect real change in addressing the issue and preventing young people from being exploited.8

1. Victor Malarek. "The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It". Toronto, Key Porter. 2009.
2. "Pornography" Merriam­Webster Online. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
3. United States Department of State. "2013 Trafficking in Persons Report". Retrieved October 21, 2017.
4. Hughes, D. "Sex Trafficking of Women for the Production of Pornography". Citizens Against Trafficking. Retrieved October 21, 2017. 5. FAQS. UNODC. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
6. United States Department of State. "2013 Trafficking in Persons Report". Retrieved October 21, 2017.
7. "Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth". Produced by Morgan Perry and directed by Joel Angyal. 2011. DVD.
8. For more information on hosting a public awareness campaign to combat trafficking please email